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 | 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 | 12 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

CARLA BLEY Social Studies

Album · 1981 · Progressive Big Band
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Matti P
Carla Bley is American free jazz pianist and composer whose music often contains experimentalism. On Social Studies -- the only Bley album I've listened to -- the composer plays organ and piano and is accompanied by a rhythm section and a wind sextet.

The opener 'Reactionary Tango' (12:52) is the longest track; other five tracks are between 4 and 7 minutes. The dance-like rhythm structure forms the basis, on top of which the trumpet, trombone, saxes and other wind instruments play almost as in a dialogue, with quick, little piano melodies thrown in here and there. This harmlessly playful and mildly humorous composition actually feels a bit too long since the changes along the way aren't very big. Even the soprano sax solo remains rather restricted. But towards the end it begins to feel more interesting as the organ makes me think of the early 70's Soft Machine. Indeed to me this music seems closer in spirit to the early British jazz/fusion with some continental flavour, than to American jazz. 'Copyright Royalties' is also temperate and easy-going.

'Utviklingssang' is a moody piece in a slow tempo. Alto sax has the biggest role in it. 'Valse Sinistre' is another composition based on a dance rhythm, and it's not exactly sinister. 'Floater' starts cautiously in a "where do we go from here?" manner but gets slightly livelier. Bass is great here. The final piece 'Walking Batteriewoman' has the fastest and edgiest melodies. Tenor sax has references to be-bop, I guess.

This album is happily less experimental or difficult than I was prepared to hear, but on the other hand it's also a bit duller than I expected. I like the overall feel: temperate, intelligent, witty, gentlemanly and mildly playful and unpredictable. However, the brass-oriented arrangement is surely not up to my jazz taste.

DIZZY GILLESPIE Dizzy Gillespie And His Orchestra : Gillespiana

Album · 1960 · Progressive Big Band
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Rexorcist
I am severely uneducated in oldschool bebop. I've heard some of the greats, Milt Jackson, Gillespie, Powell, but not enough to really be impressed with myself. Even after having heard 13,000 albums, one still has a lot to learn if those 13,000 are spent on other genres, even if it means other jazz genres. I wanted a bebop album that would blow me away and be unlike anything I'd ever heard before. So I stumbled upon an album tagged as big band bebop with an Afro-Cuban touch.

I initially thought that the album might just be five overly catchy big band songs with minimal Afro-Cuban elements in comparison to its stellar first track, but I was proven wrong very quickly. Each oldschool song had its own signature sound about it. After Prelude was Blues, a constantly progressing blues jazz track with one of Gillespie's coolest moods ever recorded never cracking under the process of evolution. Afterwords is a five-minute track that reaches levels of hyperactivity that combines with the first track but also separates itself through bebop insanity.

Next is the very 50's Africana, which goes so tribal that it feels like piece included in a classic jungle adventure movie. Our final track, Toccata. It goes back to the bebop energy of tracks one and three, but there's a highly-adventurous and somewhat dramatic feel about it, combining with Africana's adventure movie vibe but with its own fight-scene flair. You can almost expect Errol Flynn to pop out with a sword and start swinging on vines and slashing at poachers. We get the whole collective of vibes here from the adventure to the tension to the festivity.

I was more than satisfied with the inventiveness and spirit of this album. I always prefer more inventive albums to more typical ones, even when the typical ones are raw classics, like how I prefer Dr. Feelgood to Shout at the Devil, or how I prefer Pharoah Sanders to John Coltrane. Gillespiana is bebop's testament to creativity. It might not be the best gateway album into bebop, but it makes for an excellent gateway into the many capabilities of jazz itself.

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.

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