Many contemporary big-band recordings lack the stylistic integrity afforded by arrangements tailored specifically for the ensembles. But this compilation of Greg Hopkins large ensemble charts, written over a 25-year period and recorded at two sessions in 1997 and 1998, is a refreshing exception. Although the arrangements were originally done for a number of different groups, Hopkins' dominant musical personality shines through and provides stylistic coherence for the entire program. Listeners familiar with Hopkins' work for Buddy Rich in the 1970s will have some sense of the basic sound of the straight-ahead swingers. But they'll also find the fascinating marriage of 9/8 meter with straightforward 4/4 that helps define "Contra Part 1." Or the exploratory interplay between a few instruments that metamorphoses into fiery big-band propulsion in that composition's second part. Indeed, most of Hopkins' charts qualify as true compositions-with formal and scoring concerns approached innovatively-rather than conventional arrangements.
Hopkins is fortunate to have an outstanding band to play his challenging music. The polished ensemble includes several fine improvisers, among them the leader himself and Paul Fontaine on trumpet, trombonist Tony Lada, bassist Bruce Gertz, guitarist Mick Goodrick and tenorist Bill Pierce; guest pianist James Williams spices up his own "Stretchin'."