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Dan McMillion Jazz Orchestra: Nice N’ Juicy

There is so much to recommend here for lovers of big band luster, and a little bit to sympathize with for foes of big band bluster. On the positive side side, trumpeter Dan McMillion fronts an exciting organization: well disciplined sections; eloquent soloists; all dedicated to swinging their collective fannies off. The only factor on the questionable side is McMillion himself. Whenever a leader tries to preserve and perpetuate the legacy of Maynard Ferguson, he leaves himself out there, or way up there, exposed, naked, and with all the protection of a high-wire performer. He also, inevitably, invites comparison with the icon. And Dan, as galvanic as he is, lacks the firmer chops of Maynard. He is to be admired, not simply for trying, but for the results he has produced.

High points (no pun intended) are plentiful, starting with the leader, who follows his nice n’ juicy valve trombone solo on the title track with a fiery trumpet solo that quickly evolves into a screech duet. Unless the second screech trumpet was dubbed in (highly unlikely), the second trumpeter is, regrettably, unidentified. There is also some fine drumming by Glen Bush on the same track, exceeded by outstanding drumming (by Mr. Bush) on Pete Myers’ combustible chart, “Love For Sale,” easily the most intensely swinging track, thanks largely to Bush’s ability to propel his fifteen colleagues each time the key changes. Other positives: McMillion’s flugelhorn solo on “Vita Bela;” his muted trumpeting on “Lush Life; Richard Drexler’s piano work on “My Funny Valentine” and his Fender Rhodes playing on “Hey Jude.” Baritonist Matt Grawlik provides a consistenly good bottom throughout the session. It’s about time the bari was recorded properly. It offers interesting sonic contrast to McMillion’s forays into the stratosphere.

The aforementioned bluster? Oh, those showcases like “MacArthur Park” and “Hey Jude” and “Thriller.” You know, lots of smoke and whistles; not enough jazz substance.

Originally Published