High Voltage By Maynard Ferguson

January 4, 2017


This is the fifth Maynard Ferguson reissue by Omnivore Recordings that has crossed my desk in the last six months or so. Each has presented a distinct period of Ferguson’s career and Complete High Voltage is no exception.

Ferguson had just released on of the best albums of his career with 1987’s Body & Soul. Rather than rest on his laurels, he left behind his big band and recorded two albums with a much smaller unit. Now High Voltage I and II have been reissued as a two disc set complete with two bonus tracks.

Outside of his big band context, the focus of the music was squarely on Ferguson, who was one of the more creative trumpet players of the last half of the 20th century. This setting allows him to solo more than in the past, in which he explores the outer edges of the trumpet sound.

If you are a fan of Ferguson, Complete High Voltage is an interesting stop in his career. A lot of good music in one place.

Body & Soul (CD) By Maynard Ferguson

December 15, 2016


It looks like the Maynard Ferguson reissues will be coming for awhile. Following on the heels of last years reissues of 1983’s Storm and 1984’s Live From San Francisco come 1986’s Body and Soul and 1989’s Be Bop Nouveau.

Body And Soul was a transition album for Ferguson. He eliminated part of his brass section and replaced them with guitarist Mike Higgins and percussionist Steve Fisher. This new line-up allowed him to focus more on the underlying rhythms of his music while pushing him in an improvisational direction as his was able to play off the guitar more easily than the missing brass instruments. It all adds up to a more jazz fusion oriented release than his big band approach of his past.

The lead track, “Expresso,” is emblematic of his new approach as it features the double percussion of Fisher and drummer Dave Miller, who provide a taking off place for Ferguson’s trumpet. It is a very creative jazz fusion concept that works.

“M.O.T.” finds Ferguson and sax player Tim Ries exchanging solos with Higgins. The song is also added as a live bonus track where it reappears with extra textures and subtleties.

“Beautiful Hearts” has a rare trio of featured musicians with Ferguson on the flugel horn combining with saxophonist Ries and Denis DiBlasio darting in and out on the flute.

Body & Soul is a very different release for Ferguson and stands virtually alone in his catalogue of albums. It combines a number of instruments into a big band fusion album. It remains an interesting and creative effort 30 years after its initial release.

Live From San Francisco By Maynard Ferguson

February 16, 2016

I'll See You In The Summertime Outsiders

Live From San Francisco is the second of two Maynard Ferguson reissue albums curtesy of the Omnivore label. The first, Storm (see previous review), was originally issued in 1982. Now what may be the best live album of Ferguson’s long career has finally been resurrected after decades out of print. While the two albums were originally issued two years apart, there is no duplication of material.

Ferguson had just returned to a more jazz fusion sound after years of trying to fit into the commercial styles of the day. His band at the time consisted of a nine piece brass section and a basic drums/bass/keyboard rhythm foundation. It is a full sound with plenty of room for solos. Key to his music during this time period is the underpinning of drummer Gregg Bissonette.

The highlight of the performance is the 13 minute “Bebop Buffett,” which is a brass filled tribute to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk. Ferguson steps forward for a rare vocal duet on the classic “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” with band member Denis DiBlasio. Throw in originals such as “Fireshaker,” “Ganesha,” and “Coconut Champagne” and you have the makings of a concert that presents Ferguson at his best.

The sound is excellent for the time period and holds up well. There could have been better liner notes but that is a minor complaint.

Live In San Francisco catches Ferguson at the beginning of the fertile last phase of his career.It is a performance to savor.

Storm By Maynard Ferguson

February 16, 2016

I'll See You In The Summertime Outsiders

Maynard Ferguson, jazz trumpet player and band leader, could hit seemingly impossibly high register notes. He learned his craft while serving in bands led by the likes of Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnett. He formed his own band in 1957 and was able to remain relevant and popular from the end of the big band era through the rock and roll era until his death in 2006.

He explored a number of styles and sounds within a big band setting. Swing, bebop, and cool jazz dominated the first part of his career. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s he moved in a more commercial direction as musical tastes changed during the disco era. In 1982 he moved in a fusion direction, combining a big band foundation with classical jazz, which brings us to the re-issue of his 1982 album Storm.

His brassy cover of Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” is unique and his funky take on the “Sesame Street Theme” gives new life to the old children’s ditty. Original compositions “Go With The Flo” and “Hit In The Head” help establish the sound that would carry his band for the rest of his career. He even provides the vocal for the classic “As Tears Go By.”

Storm was one of several turning points in the career of Maynard Ferguson and it retains it freshness 36 years after its original release