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June 2004

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
The Way: Music of Slide Hampton
Planet Arts Recordings

The Monday night big band at the Village Vanguard features an embarrassment of riches, from the soloists and most certainly to its arrangers. Imagine one book bulging with charts by Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely and Slide Hampton-it's mind-blowing. And yet, in what amounts to some flattering nit-picking, there is something disappointing about the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra release The Way: Music of Slide Hampton (Planet Arts). There's just too much of a good thing-the solo statements-and too little of an outstanding thing: Hampton's arranging skills.

Charts are forever, but solos vary from gig to gig, and this collection of Hampton originals shows him at the height of his creative powers, with his trademark passion for colors and dynamic shadings. Recorded last December, the CD achieves its full-spectrum orchestral effects because of Hampton's writing, from Billy Drewes' flute down to Gary Smulyan's bass clarinet.

The very opening pyramid on "You Asked for It" shows that promise of Hampton's brilliant writing. Same for "One for Thad." But they soon threaten to turn into jam sessions. Don't misunderstand, however, because the solos are outstanding, including Hampton's lone solo on "Frame for the Blues," and on "Strayhorn" Dick Oatts, Billy Drewes and Rich Perry create a delicious flute salad (some parts written, some ad libbed), but the solis are unforgettable.

Originally published in June 2004
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