Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Stan Kenton Orchestra - Literally, A Moving Experience

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I was digging around my collection of Stan Kenton recordings recently looking for something by stellar trombonist Carl Fontana during his tenure with the orchestra when I came across the following point-of-view contained in the insert notes to the two disc set Kenton Odyssey 1951-1968  by Peter Newman that may go a long way toward explaining why Stan’s band appealed to many and was reviled by many others, including most of the Jazz critics.

Living in southern California, which was also where The Kenton Orchestra was based, I had frequent opportunities to catch various iterations of Stanley’s stunning ensembles in person and while in the presence of the power and majesty of those musical aggregations, that is exactly how I felt - stunned! The audio power that the band generated literally moved me off my feet, the experience was - pick a word -  remarkable, extraordinary, staggering, incredible, outstanding, amazing, astonishing, marvelous, phenomenal, splendid, fabulous, fantastic, tremendous, jaw-dropping.

Peter Newman explains more about the differences between Kenton-in-performance versus Kenton-on-record in the following excerpt from the aforementioned insert notes after which you’ll find a video tribute to Carl Fontana performing Bill Holman’s composition named after him which was recorded in performance om April 26, 1956 at the Ernst-Merke Halle, Hamburg, Germany

KENTON: ODYSSEY 1951-1968 By Peter C. Newman

“Here it is!

For years, Kenton fans have asked themselves: "Which recording of Stan's would I want on a deserted island?"

To claim that this brand new double CD set, produced by John Loeffler, is the obvious choice, may sound like the over-heated prose of a liner notes writer.
But it's not. And the reason takes a bit of explaining.

While Stanley Newcomb Kenton was still leading his magnificent orchestra, all but two of his Capitol sessions and most of the Creative World recordings that followed, were taped in studios. What did that entail?

One example: In early December of 1975, the band spent three days at Universal Studios in Chicago, putting down seven tracks issued the following year as KENTON 76. During those sessions, Studio A was filled with a forest of 24 live microphones, plus a sophisticated sound-box arrangement for drums and conga. The setup was so carefully calculated that placement of one microphone half an inch away from its allocated spot would have thrown off the proper balance. Producer Bob Curnow was proud that during the first day, twelve minutes of usable music was recorded. (Bill Holman's Tiburon took 22 takes.)

Imagine trying to swing — or even play well — under those circumstances?

No wonder some of Kenton's studio recordings sounded as if they should be played in cathedrals.

Contrast that with the energy of the 29 selections that make up these two CDs. These road bands would never have been allowed into a studio. They're alive, free and airy, pouring out enough energy to light a city. The soloists have time and space to explore their ruminations, cutting in and out of the wall of accompanying sounds, like voices shouting into the wind. It's Kenton at his very best, because that was the way most of us first heard him and fell in love with his music. [Emphasis, mine]

The studio recordings were and are treasures. This stuff is boiling mercury, burning away the fluff to reveal the true spirit of jazz Kenton-style, as a hot, get-it-off, existential art form. These cuts are from one-night stands at halls and stadiums in West Germany, California, New York, and Michigan. Each time the band plays, it's as if it had been created to fulfill this particular engagement. That's artistry of a rare caliber, seldom before captured on disc.”

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