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
4.85 | 59 ratings
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SUN RA Angels and Demons at Play Album Cover Angels and Demons at Play
SUN RA
4.93 | 6 ratings
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SUN RA Space Is the Place Album Cover Space Is the Place
SUN RA
4.86 | 7 ratings
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ANDREW HILL Passing Ships Album Cover Passing Ships
ANDREW HILL
4.85 | 7 ratings
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DAVE HOLLAND Dave Holland Big Band ‎: What Goes Around Album Cover Dave Holland Big Band ‎: What Goes Around
DAVE HOLLAND
4.90 | 5 ratings
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SUN RA Lanquidity Album Cover Lanquidity
SUN RA
4.75 | 9 ratings
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CHARLES MINGUS Let My Children Hear Music Album Cover Let My Children Hear Music
CHARLES MINGUS
4.66 | 16 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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DON ELLIS Autumn Album Cover Autumn
DON ELLIS
4.74 | 6 ratings
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GIL EVANS Out of the Cool Album Cover Out of the Cool
GIL EVANS
4.66 | 6 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Black, Brown and Beige Album Cover Black, Brown and Beige
DUKE ELLINGTON
4.75 | 4 ratings
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DON ELLIS Live at Monterrey Album Cover Live at Monterrey
DON ELLIS
4.75 | 4 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

HYESEON HONG JAZZ ORCHESTRA EE-YA-GI

Album · 2017 · Progressive Big Band
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js
On first listen you will find it hard to believe that “EE-YA-GI” is only the first album released by big band leader Hyeson Hong. Such a well developed approach to arranging is rare with a debut recording, but truth be told, Hyeson is hardly a newbie as she has been leading ensembles in both Korea and New York City for some time now. Its only appropriate that she has finally been given a chance to share her sophisticated writing and arranging with the rest of the world. There are seven tracks on “EE-YA-GI”, and each one stands as their own separate colorful world of sounds and melodies. Hong’s approach is rooted in the modern big band sounds of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, plus some exotic colors reminiscent of Don Ellis, some modern 3rd stream influence ala Marie Schneider, and even some sophisticated pop sass in a vein similar to Quincy Jones. To all this Hong often adds melodies taken from her native Korea, the end result is an infinitely interesting orchestral extravaganza that is all her own. The talented 18 piece orchestra of New Yorkers that Hong leads on her debut album is accented by Marie Schneider alumna such as Rich Perry on tenor sax and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. The wordless vocals of EJ Park adds much exotic color to many of the melodies, and Korean vocalist, Subin Park, leads “Boat Song” with a traditional ‘Chang’ song.

The aforementioned “Boat Song” probably carries the most Korean flavor, while album opener, “Harvest Dance”, also displays much melodic content from Hong’s homeland. “Disappearing into Foam” and “Love Song” are melodic and romantic, while “Trash Digging Queen” (an ode to Hyeseon’s misbehaving pet dog), has a hectic and almost comical arrangement that features constantly shifting rhythms. Possibly an album highlight though is “Para Mi Arrigo Distante”, which features a rib-sticking melody that recalls some of Quincy Jones best work in the 60s. Modern big band enthusiasts take note, “EE-YA-GI” is complex and challenging, but also fun and buoyant too. Such an excellent balance, lets hope there will be many more albums from Hyeseon Hong in the near future.

SUN RA Jazz by Sun Ra Vol.1 (aka Sun Song)

Album · 1957 · Progressive Big Band
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siLLy puPPy
Although he was born a mere earthling named Herman Poole Blount in the unassuming US state of Alabama in 1914, the future jazz master would claim to have had a visionary experience that transported him to Saturn and in the process transmogrified his very being into the more familiar musical legend SUN RA. He claims this happened around 1936 which is the period when the solar system was beginning its transformation from a third to fourth density process so certain carbon-based lifeforms very well could have had their DNA amplified in the process. Whatever the case, SUN RA was different than the rest and like all good aliens kept his secret identity well under wraps for the the next few decades while playing with the likes of Coleman Hawkins and Fletcher Henderson just to name a couple of the big talents of the 40s. Come the 1950s though and SUN RA was finally born (short for Le Sony’r Ra) and his Saturnian visions were allowed to take control. Although RA would skirt through the 50s somewhat under the radar fitting well into the world of hard bop and progressive big band, even at that stage he was somewhat of a fish out of water leaving his indelible stamp of idiosyncrasies on the jazz world.

Finally in 1957 the first SUN RA album was released although many other tracks were recorded dating back to the late 40s which would not be released until 1973’s compilation album “Deep Purple” (aka “Dreams Come True”) let them out of the vaults. Upon first pressing this debut was titled JAZZ BY SUN RA and appeared on the short-lived Transition Records and very much in a limited quantity complete with an extensive booklet of photos and liner notes. Ten years later many of the early recordings were purchased by Delmark Records and when this album was re-released in 1967 it was given the new title SUN SONG which it has been known as ever since. While both releases were faithful with tracks remaining in the same order, a feat not much adhered to in the early jazz years, the extra track “Swing A Little Taste” was added when a CD reissue finally arose in 1991. Even at this early stage SUN RA was calling his musical army of musicians THE ARKESTRA and incorporating strange unorthodox sounds, beats and rhythms to his take on jazz.

JAZZ BY SUN RA / SUN SONG shows a well-seasoned artist who was already an accomplished band leader and although his full alien potentials hadn’t quite drifted to the esoteric and space induced levels of the 60s, there is a lot that emerged askew from the normal status quo of late 50s bop and big band jazz. The ARKESTRA at this point consisted of a ten piece playing behind the great RA himself. Rhythmically and stylistically SUN SONG comes off mostly as a hard bop jazz ride but performed in big band style with the ensemble pumping out a parade of sax, trumpet and trombone riffs in a syncopated improvisational setting of swing. However, despite the first upbeat track ushering in a big band type of feel, the second “Call For All Demons” displays RA’s love of percussion hitherto unknown in the jazz world borrowing more from traditional African percussive rhythms than anything from the jazz scene of the day but even as the track begins sounding like something totally outside of the jazz world, the ARKESTRA effortlessly adapts the big band swing sound around these complex rhythms and intricate time signature workouts complete with RA’s jazz piano runs.

SUN SONG was produced by Tom Wilson, who at the time was a complete unknown in the music biz but went on to produce other top notch 60s acts such as Frank Zappa, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and even the Velvet Underground. While SUN SONG was not the album that made the great SUN RA stand out from his contemporaries in hind site it should have since it offers in plain site a completely new way of mixing rhythms, harmonies and dynamics shaded with jazz instrumentation and big band orthodoxies. SUN SONG is widely considered the most accessible SUN RA release where he showed he can play by the rules before he really went for it and then broke them. Far from struggling to fit into the then popular big band world of the era, SUN RA actually proves he can keep up with the greats of the era and throw in a multitude of his own ideas in the process. SUN SONG ranges from the upbeat swinging introductory track to the more intimate danceable numbers such as “Possession.” While not the appropriate place to begin to explore SUN RA’s most extraterrestrial musical offerings, SUN SONG / JAZZ BY SUN RA is an excellent place to hear how much of what would come to be was slowly unleashing itself within a more orthodox big band jazz context.

MILES DAVIS Facets (CBS France)

Boxset / Compilation · 1965 · Progressive Big Band
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js
An interesting obscurity in the Miles Davis discography, I would imagine even some of the most ambitious Miles collectors do not have the compilation “Facets Number 1” in their collection, which is a shame because this is an outstanding collection of tracks, and most surprising of all, none of these tracks appear on any Miles Davis albums. Arrangements and orchestrations are a big part of this collection, with six cuts featuring a big band ensemble, two more played by a sextet, and finally two more performed by a quintet. As for the source of these recordings, four tracks come from Michael Legrand’s ‘Jazz’ album, two are from a Jazz and Classical Music Society compilation called “Music for Brass”, and the rest come from various compilations released in the mid 50s and early 60s. The one thing all these tracks have in common is that they all feature great solo work from Miles, who was at the top of his game during this time.

Side one opens with two tracks from a sextet that features the young and exuberant Wayne Shorter, as well as the humorous and sarcastic lyrics and vocals of Bob Dorough on the second track. These two are followed by two more high energy cuts with a quintet that features John Coltrane on tenor. Side one closes out with a lengthy experimental 3rd stream creation from John Lewis. Side two opens with four tracks from Michael Legrand’s jazz album with Miles. Michael is a master of 50-60s exotic orchestration on the level of Quincy Jones and Les Baxter. On an album of great songs, these four may be the best. The album closes out with another lengthy 3rd Stream excursion, this time from J J Johnson.

Creative, witty and energetic, “Facets” has it all. Although Miles continued to come up with creative musical concepts for the rest of his career, his actual playing and performance on the trumpet were at a peak during this time period. I doubt this compilation will ever come out on CD, so your best chance of finding a copy will be at used record stores or from online sellers.

PHRONESIS The Behemoth

Album · 2017 · Progressive Big Band
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snobb
During a decade of their activities, Nordic-British trio Phronesis built a strong reputation as leading UK-based jazz band of new generation. Led by charismatic Danish bassist Jasper Høiby, trio successfully combined renown Swedes EST-influenced contemporary chamber jazz with their own well-composed themes and energetic live performances. After some years of fame, trio members try to find out new destinations where their music could be developed. On "Parallax", their studio album released in 2016, Phronesis for the first time leave safe waters of comfortable and successful music of their early albums and switch to more muscular (and less tuneful/memorable) fusion sound - with mixed success. Seeing them playing live last autumn with program which contained both old (contemporary chamber jazz) and new (fusion) songs, was quite a controversial experience. Older compositions were all much more polished,tuneful and often just beautiful, new muscular songs radiated energy and groove but as rule were quite faceless and unmemorable.

Anyway, this spring Phronesis made another unexpected step - trio released album of their well-known songs recorded with German big band. This time it works without doubts - excellent Julian Arguelles arrangements with lots of horns soloing and perfect muscular big band sound help to show Phronesis compositions' potential in full. There are no tricks or gimmicks in orchestra's music at all - all album sounds as best Gil Evans or Charles Mingus big orchestra recordings. Music is full-bodied, well balanced, tasteful and played with lot of positive energy and enthusiasm.

Excellent generalization of Phronesis first decade of activities - with lot of optimism and looking ahead, not in a past. One of the best big orchestra release I heard for years.

SCOTT REEVES Portraits & Places

Album · 2016 · Progressive Big Band
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Carmel
New York based composer, arranger and trombonist/alto flugelhornist, Scott Reeves formed his impressive orchestra in 2008, and while Portraits and Places marks its recorded debut, Reeves spent a number of years before that sharpening his composing and arranging skills at the highly regarded BMI Jazz Composers Workshop where he received guidance and mentoring from Manny Albam, Mike Abene, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober. The result is influenced here on eight numbers (three of which comprise the colorful L & T Suite), Reeves is an inventive writer with a strong grasp of the components needed to nurture exciting results and high quality performances from each member of a large ensemble.

Notable is his ability for melody, harmony and a most important element of counterpoint, this is where Reeves benchmarks, his compositions are stylish yet accessible, his arrangements meticulously polished and consistently engaging. His choice in sidemen is stellar with a lineup that reads like a who's who of New York’s most sought-after musicians.

The offering kicks off with "The Soulful Mr. Williams," a blues-based groover that immediately sets the tone of harmonic muscularity that this orchestra is about to unleash. Tight woven lines with dark harmonic flavors coupled with poignant solos by Reeves on alto flugelhorn and the imaginative pianist Jim Ridl. What is unique is the alto flugelhorn sound, close in nature to the trombone, Reeves primary instrument, gives this track a moody feel that is powerfully portrayed. "3 'n 2" is a driving tune with high flying trumpet notes and an fervent solo courtesy of tenorist Tim Armacost, and trumpeter Bill Mobley.

An intriguing journey to Asia can be found in "Osaka June," in which Sara Serpa's wordless ornamentations set the stage for spoken dialogue (in Japanese) by Emi Miyajima Nobe and Yuzuki Nobe (mother and child), which deceivingly sets up the tune that takes the listener though romping solos by Ridl and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, who puts forth a riveting performance.

Jobim, a master at writing bossa nova adorns Reeves offering with an arrangement by Reeves of "Aguas de Marco" a wonderful halfway stop to cleanse your pallet before embarking into the L & T Suite (3 movements), the suite features the nimble "Wants to Dance," featuring Wilson on alto and drummer Andy Watson, an introspective and darkly tuned "Trombonist's Tale" helmed by trombonist Matt McDonald, and the zestful "Hip Kitty," again showcasing Ridl's adroit piano skills. "Last Call," closes the session, showcasing low brass, giving the lower register players their due, especially notable are the solos by bass trombonist Max Seigel and baritone Terry Goss before complimented by Seneca Black's muted trumpet, that gently weaves the listener to the finality of the tune.

Reeves the director of jazz studies at CCNY, certainly walks the walk, and with Portraits and Places, he shows he can also bring forth a new generation of orchestra tunes that delight, challenge and push the lineage forward. Fantastic writing, top-notch playing by all, makes this a superbly preeminent orchestra offering. A highly recommended “must” to any collection.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Progressive Big Band
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