Maynard Ferguson's sudden passing in the summer of 2006 was a surprise to many jazz fans, as the always upbeat bandleader seemed indestructible. Just a few weeks prior to his death, the trumpeter took his Big Bop Noveau into the studio to record what evidently is his final album. With a number of creative arrangements and original compositions contributed for the recording by Ferguson's bandmembers, the players took to each of them with the same enthusiasm that their leader showed on a everyday basis. Every track should be considered a highlight of the CD, though saxophonist Chip McNeil's scoring of the standard "Without a Song," trombonist Steve Wiest's percolating arrangement of Bill Withers' often bland "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," and Denis DiBlasio's hip setting of Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses" merit strong praise.
Trumpeter Maynard Ferguson led his greatest big band during the years that he was signed to Roulette and all of the music from his 13 Roulette LPs (plus 11 previously unissued selections) are included on this deluxe limited-edition ten-CD box set. Although three of the LPs were originally recorded as dance records (and stick close to the melodies), this box as a whole finds Maynard at his peak and with an orchestra that includes such talented soloists as trombonists Slide Hampton and Don Sebesky (both of whom contributed arrangements), altoist Lanny Morgan, the tenors of Carmen Leggio, Willie Maiden, Joe Farrell, and Don Menza, pianists Jaki Byard and Joe Zawinul, and drummer Rufus Jones in addition to the leader. The music is very jazz-oriented and contains more than its share of classic moments, particularly the sessions that resulted in A Message From Newport and Newport Suite. It's highly recommended.
An all-star cast assists Maynard Ferguson in this disco-tinged big-band outing. Ferguson's trademark trumpet playing is featured in all its screaming glory, and Mark Colby contributes a couple of high-energy sax solos. "Primal Scream" and "Invitation" sound as though they were lifted right off the mid-'70s disco dancefloor, complete with T.S.O.P.-type strings and pulsing rhythms. "Pagliacci," too, has the disco beat pounding underneath a Jay Chattaway adaptation of an operatic melody, with Bobby Militello featured on an energetic, overblown flute solo. Chick Corea's "The Cheshire Cat Walk" sounds like latter-day Return to Forever, as Corea's synth trades licks with Ferguson's horn over a familiar RTF rhythmic/chordal bassline sequence. The final cut, Eric Gale's "Swamp," stands out because of its reggae beat.