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

Showing only albums and live's | Based on members ratings & JMA custom algorithm | 24 hours caching

CHARLES MINGUS The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Album Cover The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
CHARLES MINGUS
4.78 | 77 ratings
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ANDREW HILL Passing Ships Album Cover Passing Ships
ANDREW HILL
4.76 | 10 ratings
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TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI Long Yellow Road Album Cover Long Yellow Road
TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI
4.98 | 4 ratings
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SUN RA Angels and Demons at Play Album Cover Angels and Demons at Play
SUN RA
4.74 | 8 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 | 4 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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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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DON ELLIS Live at Monterrey Album Cover Live at Monterrey
DON ELLIS
4.46 | 6 ratings
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PHRONESIS The Behemoth Album Cover The Behemoth
PHRONESIS
4.48 | 5 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
4.39 | 9 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

JUHANI AALTONEN Juhani Aaltonen ja Sointi Jazz Orchestra : Saarnaaja

Album · 2019 · Progressive Big Band
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Matti P
Saxophone & flute player Juhani "Junnu" Aaltonen (b. 1935) is a legendary figure in Finnish jazz. In the late 60's - early 70's he was an original member in Tasavallan Presidentti, Finland's biggest classic prog/jazz-rock act besides Wigwam. Being less of a composer than a sought-out session musician and beloved collaborator, in his long career including also a multitude of albums released under his own name, he has worked closely with composers such as Heikki Sarmanto, Edward Vesala, Henrik Otto Donner and Arild Andersen.

The composer of this particular album is a less known name to a listener, Rasmus Soini. The CD's liner notes tell about the birth of "Saarnaaja" (= The Preacher). In January 2014 Aaltonen visited the music college of Espoo to talk of his ideas and visions of music. Soini, working there as a teacher,was deeply impressed by Junnu's wise words, and a year later he started to compose a conceptual instrumental work for the Sointi Jazz Orchestra he had founded and for Junnu as the soloist.

Like several of Heikki Sarmanto's major works often featuring Aaltonen, this is an orchestral piece of pure Third Stream, ie. music between -- or representing both -- art music and jazz. The large orchestra consists of woodwind and brass, plus piano, double bass and drums. Junnu's role as a soloist on tenor sax and alto flute is naturally very central since he was the muse and inspiration of the whole project. The work is in five parts, some with a poetic title taken from Junnu's lecture, e.g. 'Turning weaknesses into strengths' (Pt. 2), 'I'm gliding above chords' (pt. 4) and 'Music like a prayer' (Pt. 5), freely translated by me.

The overture begins with dramatic low notes from the brass section, quieting down for Junnu's tenor solo and soon returning to do angular, fast-paced dialogue with the sax. The piano and rhythm section join for the last minutes of this very free jazz spirited movement that ends with a chaotic crescendo. Part 2 is a more accessible and melodic movement, balancing between the big orchestral sound and airier group-oriented moments with tenor sax as a soloist.

'Play like the surface of the pond remains unbroken' (Pt. 3) is a gentle movement focusing at first on flute and piano only, later with an increasing backing of brass and woodwinds. I personally would have preferred to keep the movement lighter and more chamber-like all the way.

Pt. 4 continues the wide dynamics of the alteration between solo spots and the brass-heavy sound of the orchestra. On the final movement Junnu plays both flute and tenor sax, and the music sometimes has a sermon-like atmosphere.

I am not a fan of brassy big band sound, so this album doesn't quite meet my taste, but taken more objectively it is a respectable, highly dynamic work filled with Junnu's sensitive playing and orchestral grandiosity.

TOSHIYUKI MIYAMA Orchestrane (New Herd Play John Coltrane)

Album · 1977 · Progressive Big Band
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snobb
Japanese reeds player and band leader, Toshiyuki Miyama, started his musical career with his own band, Jive Ace, in 1950, playing American popular music, or more precisely - a Japanese adaptation of it. Soon the combo grew up to a big band named The New Herd, which became one of the most popular collectives playing Western music in Japan. Extremely prolific, the band played everything from popular soap opera tunes to TV-serial soundtrack covers, releasing ten or more albums every year. In late the 60s, Miyama farsightedly jumped to just-born and short-lived but very creative Japanese free-jazz movement (regularly collaborating with one of its leaders, pianist Masahiko Satoh), this is what brought The New Herd international fame. In the late 70s the big band tried to ensure a solid foundation underfoot playing everything from still popular jazz fusion, to jazz standards, r'n'b and pop hits again.

"Orchestrane", the Herd's album coming from the late 70s, is interesting since it is dedicated to John Coltrane's music. It contains just four songs, quite unusually including "A Love Supreme" among three Coltrane early classics - "Impressions", "Naima" and "Giant Steps". Even more - "A Love Supreme" takes all of side B on the original vinyl release.

Remixed in 2005, "Orchestrane"'s reissue has excellent sound precisely separating each instrument of a big orchestra with exceptional stereo separation in the best old school tradition. During the mid-70s The Herd... recorded a few albums for the Japanese audiophile label, Three Blind Mouse, they really knew what the great recorded sound means.

Unfortunately, the good news finishes here. It's even a bit strange, that after some years playing radical avant-garde jazz (partially with Masahiko Satoh), Miyama returns to extremely safe overly orchestrated sound. All the album's music recalls a lot the sound of many National Radio and TV orchestras from the 60s, where classically trained musicians started playing over orchestrated extremely static and bombastic versions of big band music. The Coltrane pieces sound very much as waltzes and marches from New Year's Wiener ball. Four-parts suite-like "A Love Supreme" (lasting over 20 minutes) under tons of overoptimistic brass lost all its spirituality, added sax soloing doesn't help much. The final part ("Psalm") combining sax solo alone with almost atonal orchestral wall of sound sounds odd.

Far not the worst Miyama's album, it can attract mostly Coltrane legacy collectors as well as fans of heavily orchestrated perfectly recorded progressive big band music.

CHARLES MINGUS Reevaluation: the Impulse Years

Boxset / Compilation · 1973 · Progressive Big Band
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js
Here is a little tip known mostly to record collectors. If you want to get a vinyl copy of Charles Mingus’ “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” in excellent condition, look for this two record compilation, “Charles Mingus Reevaluation: the Impulse Years”, on the Impulse label of course. That’s right, the entire “Black Saint” album is on here, and like a lot of compilations, the price runs about half of the original album and there is a good chance that the album may not have been played much, which is often the case with comps. Along with the entire Black Saint album, you also get 5 of the 7 songs from “Mingus, Mingus, Mingus”, one of the very best of Charles’ albums as it contains well know classics such as “Better Get it in Your Soul, “Mood Indigo” and “Theme for Lester Young”.

Along with this collection of some of Charles’ very best tracks, you also get two songs with Mingus playing the piano solo and one song that had previously only shown up on an Impulse various artist compilation. The Mingus solo piano tracks are in a slightly older style as Charles draws upon his appreciation For Art Tatum and Duke Ellington, but there is no doubting his talent on the keyboard as he probably could have been a pro piano player if he wasn’t already about the best in the business on bass. The combination of the entire “Black Saint” album and some of the best tracks from “Mingus, Mingus, Mingus” make this about the best Mingus album you can pick up except for “The Great Concert for Charles Mingus”, possibly the best live album in the history of jazz.

SUN RA Hours After

Album · 1989 · Progressive Big Band
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js
When Sun Ra started his Arkestra in the mid-50s, he was a total fire brand, the leader of the avant-garde in jazz. He continued in this vein for several decades, but sometime in the 80s he felt a desire to re-visit the music of his pre-Arkestra days. Back in those early days, like most hungry musicians, Ra took jobs wherever he could; playing piano with the Fletcher Henderson orchestra, touring with BB King, providing background music for burlesque shows in Chicago and many other far reaching gigs. These shows in which the Arkestra delved into the past were a mixed bag, sometimes they were magical journeys to musical worlds that no longer exist, other times it sounded like the band was just going through the motions to get their pay at the end of the evening. “Hours After”, a studio album that Sonny recorded in 1989, falls somewhere in between those two extremes. Its not a great album, by Sun Ra standards, but it has its good moments too.

Side one opens with the standard “But Not for Me”, the band plays it straight ahead in swinging style and Sonny shows off his considerable chops as a stride pianist. It’s a decent jam, but before its over the song fades. Studio fades can sound good on a pop song with a repeating chorus, but on a jazz blowing session, it sounds so wrong it hurts. Jazz songs that fade in mid solo are very rare and there is a reason for that. Next up is the title track on which Sonny re-visits his burlesque show roots with a sleazy vamp driven by a jump blues backbeat. This one could have been good, but the band sounds like they are just going through the motions. Once again there is an odd ending when the band just sort of stops playing. “Beautiful Love” closes this side with Ra on vocals. Sonny is not a great singer, but he does have an interesting ‘character’ voice with a certain amount of pathos.

Side two opens with a classic Arkestra free jazz onslaught, but once again the band just doesn’t sound inspired until halfway through the jam someone, probably John Gilmore, takes a tenor solo and interjects some personality and inspiration. Ra follows with some great tone colors on the synthesizer. Album closer, “Love on a Far Away Planet”, is the top track and features the band in spiritual jazz groove mode with only a few solos here and there, mostly this one is all about that African rhythm. The flute voicings in the melody are pure ethereal Ra.

CLARE FISCHER Thesaurus (aka 'Twas Only Yesterday)

Album · 1969 · Progressive Big Band
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js
Its kind of interesting how some great jazz musicians get slated for immortality and some do not. Clare Fischer was a top notch modern big band arranger, if he is not in the same class as Gil Evans, Don Ellis or Quincy Jones, he is very close, yet you don’t hear about him near as much as the others. Part of Clare’s problem is that he was putting out big band, Latin and post bop albums during an era when record companies were banking all their money on fusion acts with rock star vibes. Yes, Clare looks pretty conservative on the cover of “Thesaurus”, but the music contained herein is just as dynamic and creative as anyone else during this era. Fischer is also an accomplished writer as well as arranger, with four songs on “Thesaurus” written by himself, as well as two by his brother, trumpeter Stewart Fischer.

Side one opens up with “The Duke”, with Clare making it clear that the Duke is one of his favorite arrangers and the tune does carry some Ellington influence, but with a larger brass section than the Duke usually had. The Latin flavored “Miles Behind” does not seem to channel Miles Davis much, with trumpeter Conte Candoli turning in a bright solo that is almost the opposite of Miles. The top track of side one though is Lennie Tristan’s “Lennie’s Pennies”, a brilliant tune that takes bebop to a new modernist level. This is also Fischer’s best arrangement with Gary Foster and Warne Marsh presenting very different takes on this song’s interpretation.

Top tracks on side two include “Bitter Leaf”, a moody tone poem that features Clare’s impressionistic electric piano blending with the tone colors of his band in a style almost more French impressionism than jazz. Also noteworthy is his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s complex, yet swinging, “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”. The album closes with a brief but moving ballad dedicated to the then recently assassinated Kennedy brothers. Fans of big band arranging from the 60s to today should take note, Clare Fischer’s “Thesaurus” rates up there with the best of them.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
A Love Supreme Post Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
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Kind of Blue Cool Jazz
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The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Progressive Big Band
CHARLES MINGUS
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Blue Train Hard Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
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My Favorite Things Hard Bop
JOHN COLTRANE
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