Progressive Big Band

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There are two big band genres at JMA; Big Band and Progressive Big Band. Although the term "progressive" might imply that the latter genre is more demanding and complex than the former, this is not always the case. Instead, Progressive Big Band is a term developed in the 1950s to refer to big band music that was not meant for dancing and entertainment, but instead was meant for listening to in a manner more similar to concert hall music. Other than that, the term "progressive" does not imply any sort of definable musical superiority.

Music found in the Progressive Big Band genre at JMA may have ambitions similar to lengthy concert hall pieces, and may also feature elements of the avant-garde and other modern tendencies. The Progressive Big Band genre begins with some extended works by Duke Ellington in the 1940s. Other early pioneers in this genre include; Stan Kenton, Sun Ra, David Amram, Gil Evans, Toshiko Akyoshi, Carla Bley, Don Ellis and others.

progressive big band top albums

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CHARLES MINGUS The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Album Cover The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
CHARLES MINGUS
4.78 | 66 ratings
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ANDREW HILL Passing Ships Album Cover Passing Ships
ANDREW HILL
4.75 | 7 ratings
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SUN RA Angels and Demons at Play Album Cover Angels and Demons at Play
SUN RA
4.78 | 6 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Such Sweet Thunder Album Cover Such Sweet Thunder
DUKE ELLINGTON
5.00 | 3 ratings
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TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI Long Yellow Road Album Cover Long Yellow Road
TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI
5.00 | 3 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Ellington Uptown (aka Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown) Album Cover Ellington Uptown (aka Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown)
DUKE ELLINGTON
4.89 | 3 ratings
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FLAT EARTH SOCIETY 13 Album Cover 13
FLAT EARTH SOCIETY
4.83 | 3 ratings
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CHARLES MINGUS Let My Children Hear Music Album Cover Let My Children Hear Music
CHARLES MINGUS
4.50 | 18 ratings
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SUN RA Space Is the Place Album Cover Space Is the Place
SUN RA
4.50 | 10 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Black, Brown and Beige Album Cover Black, Brown and Beige
DUKE ELLINGTON
4.60 | 5 ratings
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KAMASI WASHINGTON Heaven & Earth Album Cover Heaven & Earth
KAMASI WASHINGTON
4.67 | 3 ratings
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DON ELLIS Live at Monterrey Album Cover Live at Monterrey
DON ELLIS
4.46 | 6 ratings
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This list is in progress since the site is new. We invite all logged in members to use the "quick rating" widget (stars bellow album covers) or post full reviews to increase the weight of your rating in the global average value (see FAQ for more details). Enjoy JMA!

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progressive big band Music Reviews

NIKOLOV-IVANOVIĆ UNDECTET Frame and Curiosity (feat. Magic Malik)

Album · 2019 · Progressive Big Band
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“Frame and Curiosity” is the second album by the Nikolov-Ivanovic Undectet, and it finds them following a similar formula as their first one, modern big band arrangements guided by Balkan rhythms and melodies, although to many, the Balkan influences might not seem so obvious at first. Vladimir Nikolov handles the arrangements and piano, while Srdjan Ivanovic guides the band from the drum set. The two also wrote all of the original material. The group is fleshed out with a wide array of instruments including three saxophones, a horn quartet and accordion, plus special guest Magic Malik on flute. Magic makes for an excellent addition as he provides some of the most creative solos and adds a bright sound color to the arrangements. Although some jazz flautists can sound a bit shrill at times, Malik gets a strong deep sound from his flute that can hold its own against busy horn charts.

The three tracks that open the album are possibly the strongest, and although the press kit review from Jazz Times sites Gil Evans and Maria Schneider, I’m hearing a lot of classic Don Ellis. The odd-metered East European rhythms topped with complex and busy horn workouts recall Don’s ground breaking concert and recording at Monterrey. Maybe no one remembers Ellis anymore … sad. The rest of the album features some impressionistic ballads, a rock influenced track called “Anonymous”, a slight Latin flavor on “Carefree” and one more ambitious big band excursion titled “Sade Sati”. Jazz’s dance floor era passed long ago, but big bands are back more than ever as creative arrangers seek new sounds and tone colors. Fans of the modern big band sound should find much to like on “Frame and Curiosity”.

GIL EVANS The Gil Evans Orchestra Play the Music of Jimi Hendrix

Album · 1974 · Progressive Big Band
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When The “Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix” came out in the early 70s, it was a big deal, and for good reason too. Attempts to merge heavy rock and orchestral music were still a new thing then and many attempts at such a merger were often a clumsy mess. Gil was given much well deserved praise in that he quite successfully took the music of Jimi Hendrix and gave it a big band treatment that somehow managed to capture the best of both the rock and big band jazz worlds. Flash forward several decades to today and this album still holds up, but since it became a blueprint for others to follow, its rockin big band sounds are hardly unusual anymore. Late night entertainment shows such as Saturday Night Live and David Letterman have been featuring big bands playing classic rock and RnB tunes for some time now and several tracks on the ‘Evans Plays Hendrix’ album sound like they would fit in well during a commercial break while Paul Shaffer or G.E. Smith is trying to keep the audience hyped.

Opening track, “Angel”, is probably the one closest to a late night break rave up, especially since it features the sax melody and solo of David Sanborn, the owner of one of the most imitated horn sounds on late night TV. “Cross Town Traffic” and “Foxey Lady” are the other two that also fall more in this direction. “Castles Made of Sand” is the first track to really head in an interesting and alternative direction as Evans introduces counter melodies that hang like dissonant clouds and totally transform the song. “Up from the Skies” is essentially a jazz song to begin with, which might explain why it works so well as Evans once again produces an appealing murkiness that takes the track towards exotic Sun Ra territory. “1983 - A Merman I Should Turn to Be” is also given an interesting facelift as it becomes a spaghetti western movie theme. The least successful track is “Voodoo Chile”, whose melody is played by Howard Johnson who sounds like he is humming through his horn producing a non-appealing kazoo type sound.

This is a Gil Evans album, so the performances and orchestrations are outstanding, its just that this album probably would have aged better if he had gone more in the experimental direction, and less in the rockin direction.

MARIEL AUSTIN Runner in the Rain

Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band
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You normally wouldn’t expect a debut album to be this ambitious and eclectic, but trombonist and big band arranger Mariel Austin is apparently fearless as she does not hold back on her first outing titled “Runner in the Rain”. This is a big band outing, and a very varied and imaginative one at that. Austin touches on a myriad of styles as her narrative arrangements unfold with multiple twists and turns. Many seasoned listeners will be able to tell right away that these are young players, possibly some not quite professional yet, but don’t let that hold you back from giving this a serious listen, these young cats came to play. Much of this music was written in conjunction with Mariel’s education, and the performers are all friend of hers from Berklee and the New England Conservatory. The youthfulness of the production shows in a sort of lack of glossy sheen, but once again, this should not be a problem, so many great jazz artists, Sun Ra and Charles Mingus for example, purposefully tried to avoid such ‘glossiness’ in their music.

As mentioned earlier, Austin likes to work with a wide variety of musical styles. The CD opens with a pounding punkish odd meterd drum beat and trumpet riff before fading into several semi classical passages and eventually back to the beat. Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer” is given one of the most imaginative arrangements as tone colors shift and morph in organic colors. “Mirrorshift” features a closing section with the woodwind section singing exotica style wordless vocals, while “One Way Journey” is a slow jam funk ballad with missed loved ones in mind. Album closer and title track, “Runner in the Rain” ,is a moving art song about loss with well written lyrics and vocals by Nariel herself. Fans of modern big band, and also fans of today’s youthful eclectic approach will want to check this out. Hopefully there are more big band albums coming soon from Mariel Austin.

JOHN DAVERSA John Daversa Big Band : American Dreamers (Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom)

Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band
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Down through history there always seems to be a certain politician who is so void of positive ideas and real solutions that he desperately blames the ‘immigrants’ for his nation’s problems and seeks to increase his popularity with this morally corrupt message. This worked well for Hitler, and despite what a tragedy he turned out to be, it still seems to work for some. The problem being that there is always enough of the population who is either under educated enough, or xenophobic enough to fall for such nonsense. Satirical cartoon show “The Simpsons” presented a biting send up of such posturing when they aired an episode in the mid 90s in which their corrupt mayor chose to wiggle out of a tight spot regarding taxes by ‘blaming the immigrants’. So it comes to pass just a few decades later in a prime example of reality imitating TV, the voters of the US elected a politician who used this same tired and predictable rhetoric to actually win the presidency.

Dreamers are children who were brought to the US, under no power of their own, as non-citizens and who have since been working hard to prove themselves as capable US citizens. Many lawmakers support these Dreamers and have been trying to provide a path for their eventual citizenship. Unfortunately, many of these dreams have been dashed lately by a new administration that rose to power by provoking irrational fears about these Dreamers and are busy trying close their path to citizenship. John Daversa’s “American Dreamers” is a new CD that gives these young people a voice and allows them to tell their stories in their own words and also allows them to participate in Daversa’s power packed big band.

If you have ever worked as a teacher, you will recognize the voices in these stories, these are the voices of your students, and believe me, that makes all of this hit you like a ton of bricks. In my many years as a music teacher in the US, I would estimate over half the students I have worked with have been immigrants. To hear the ambitious and unpretentious young people on this CD describe how their dreams may be crushed is beyond heart-breaking, and really kind of burns me up inside. Hopefully this CD will help people realize what a horrible tragedy is taking place here.

“American Dreamers” is a great listen just to hear the young musician’s stories, but you also get John Daversa’s big band playing wild arrangements that can recall ‘out-there’ band arrangers such as Don Ellis, Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra. Most of the tracks are covers that have been completely re-arranged into fresh new pieces. James Brown’s “Living in America” has crazy horn syncopations that sound like the JBs gone berserk. “Stars and Stripes” is given a fast changing de-constructionist arrangement that may remind some of Anthony Braxton’s humorous marching band send-ups. Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song” is given screaming horns and a fierce rap from a young man from Senegal named Caliph. The music on its own would make “American Dreamers” one of the best modern big band albums of this year, but when you add in the importance of the message being presented here, you have a jazz record that has transcended mere art and become a powerful social statement that will hopefully help people understand what is truly going on here.

MICA BETHEA Suite Theory

Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band
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For the modern big band enthusiast who wants to keep up with what’s new, there is a name you should know if you don’t already, and that is Mica Bethea. Mica released his first big band album back in 2011, but then nothing until last year’s “Stage n’ Studio”, followed quickly by this year’s “Suite Theory”. What a difference a year makes as Mica’s new one shows him starting to really evolve and develop as a writer and arranger. “Stage n’ Studio” is a good CD and it pulled positive reviews, but on this new one, for the first time, Bethea has written every composition himself, and his compositions have grown in complexity and ambition. “Suite Theory” is a four movement composition that attempts to illustrate Mica’s life starting from a carefree young man to a post-car accident (entirely not his fault) quadriplegic, through post-accident depression, and finally to a life reaffirming decision to press on with his work as a composer. Certainly these are all vividly personal events that would make one reach deep into one’s creativity.

Movement one, “Crystal Clear”, is a swingin number that seems to reference Ellington as Mica’s opening melody is passed around among the various band sections as they introduce endless variations on the opening theme. The many wide open solos that follow continue the melodic variance. Movement two, “Destiny’s Boat”, deals with waking up in a hospital bed with one’s life changed in ways that no one could possibly anticipate. This track is more mysterious and the odd colorful orchestrations recall Herbie Hancock’s Sextet, or his “Speak Like a Child” album. Todd Guidice delivers a killer sax solo on this one, which Bethea liked so much that he closes the CD with a second take of this movement so that Todd could take his solo even further out. Movement three, “Meniscus”, carries an Afro-Cuban influence with more grooving solos. The final movement, “Guardian of Forever”, features long complex rapid unison horn lines that fall in between neo-bebop and an over the top prog rock arrangement. The rockin element is pushed by James Hogan’s guitar solo that is part earthy blues rock and part soaring Allan Holdsworth style fusion.

Modern big band fans need to take note, Mica Bethea is one that you need to check out as he looks to be in this for the long haul. Its truly impressive how “Suite Theory” has shown such growth in the areas of composition and arrangement, but if there is anything I miss from his previous album, it’s the hardcore funk of his “Hang Up Your Hang Ups” cover, and the neo-classical melody of “Birth Rite”. Given the strength of these last two albums, it should be interesting to see what Micah comes up with next, hopefully he won’t keep us waiting too long.

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