Maynard Ferguson

Memories Of Maynard: The Best Of The Columbia Years

(Sleepy Night Records)

There were some cool big bands around when I was young – though this was long after Basie, Rich, Bellson and Ellington’s heyday – Don Ellis, pal of Jimi Hendrix Gil Evans but for pure, loud horn and brass action and adventurous charts Maynard Ferguson surely carved out his own territory. Many of his releases were on the Columbia label and here now under licence is a collection of Ferguson forays. He had his roots in the mid-Fifties playing with the individualistic Stan Kenton, good grounding for an aural explorer ! It doesn’t seem twelve years since this trumpet icon passed, but I guess it is.

These 2018 remasters seem to aim for enhanced clarity and improved bass register. A quick nod therefore to Andy Haldane and Gary Gillies, the reissue producers are Gillies and Ken Masters.

The brooding and steadily drummed take on Herbie Hancock’s funk signature tune Chameleon kicks this collection off. Full-blooded is the description that springs to mind as the high-register trumpets ride the trombones’ growl, fat electric bass and snarly electric guitar. At 2:30 a masterful sax solo steps forward, increasing its elasticity as it puffs away. A crisp drum break adds to the excitement as spacey keyboards twinkle away in the mix. A great recording. The cosmic Primal Scream
uses shimmering and playful strings over a Family Stone style groove, the horns blaring with a rich texture. Slivers of James Brown guitar ride the syncopated disco drums.

Pagliacci is more reminiscent of Herb Alpert’s Rise classic album, short delay on the lead trumpet and soon a pronounced Latin rhythm takes over, fuzz guitar taking the regal theme. Again impressive and accurate drumming. How the solo trumpet and flute soar over this sky-blue aural backdrop! The tension-soaked composition doesn’t let up for a moment. It’s ultra-competent, but soulful as well as clever. On to Gonna Fly Now with a truly dynamic intro with chattering guitar and an exhilarating melody. Most of these cuts would fit so well in a thriller film. A biting axe break gives even more edge, such honed and imaginative playing, as the strings purr away over the changes and the brass makes its mark….

Theme From Star Trek is fruity starbound stuff indeed, then by complete contrast we get Maria taken at a rippling tempo, with initially sparse bass, pattering congas and sweeps of harp. The trumpet takes up the West Side Story tune that we have all heard sung so many, many times – usually very badly. A flute passage dances over the skipping backdrop. Such a lovely melody, in these inspired hands. Schehezarade takes a stomping and strident theme for a disco outing, the lead trumpet relaxed and calming, the ensemble assembling a busy setting, riddled with percussion touches. At this point I wish they had done The Duke’s Caravan…

Over The Rainbow is one tune I never want to hear again, ever. Heard it mauled so often. Here, it gets an original arrangement it doesn’t really deserve. Nothing can make me like that melody any more…..Next up, Theme From Star Trek The Motion Picture being the disco version, playful brass. Trouble is, it evokes that terrible wooden acting and stilted dialogue…

Om Sai Ram is all sitars and incense, a gentle cruise into the composition. Early morning by a misty river in Asia is what it conjures up and skilfully. The tablas take up a steady rhythm and chanted vocals add to the atmosphere. Hollywood is fast, choppy dancefloor material, spot-on bass and a machine-gun chart for the brass and horns. The shards of dirty guitar grind in here and there. Definitely looking for a spy movie to open. Portuguese Love was originally of course a vocal disco hit all over the world, The light-touch delivery on this one makes for a pleasant if unexciting listen. It always sounded more French than Portuguese, to me. Finally on this collection, Shanti Mantra is new to all of us, as it was never released until now. The tune reflects Maynard’s openness to Indian musics. The listener is taken straight to foreign climes and the trumpet floats over the sitars, ponderous bass and restrained drumming. Good to hear this, at last.

An impressive set of Ferguson works, the best players around and interesting tunes, some of them quite thrilling.

Pete Sargeant


(Thanks to Chris Hewlett)

Maynard Ferguson's 'Memories Of Maynard: The Best Of The Columbia Years' is out now on Sleepy Night Records.

You can purchase the album here:

Maynard Ferguson