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The Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band: All Smiles (Edel/MPS)

Review of archival recording by the '60s European jazz ensemble

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Cover of Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band album
Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band album

In the 1960s the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band became the first important European large jazz ensemble. It was European with an asterisk. Many of the players were American expatriates (drummer/co-leader Clarke, saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Sahib Shihab, trumpeters Benny Bailey and Idrees Sulieman). But co-leader/pianist/arranger Boland was Belgian. England was well represented (saxophonists Ronnie Scott, Derek Humble and Tony Coe, trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar). Trombonists Åke Persson and Erik van Lier were from Sweden and the Netherlands, respectively.

The conventional wisdom in the 1960s was that European drummers couldn’t swing. This band, of course, avoids the issue. Clarke was one of the living masters of his instrument, a founder of modern drumming, usually credited with moving time-keeping to the ride cymbal. Clarke could lift an orchestra.

It is such permanent values as swing that make this band worth revisiting today. Boland’s arrangements contain some interesting harmonic concepts, especially for the saxophones. But he was a classicist. His traditional big-band approach prioritized precision and power, and swung like crazy. For the American Songbook standards on All Smiles, he created elegant, concise charts designed to set up his fine soloists.

Clarke-Boland broke no new ground. But Scott jumps all over Gershwin’s “By Strauss.” Persson and Deuchar glide on Clarke’s energy all across “Get Out of Town.” “When Your Lover Has Gone” contains a heartfelt rendering by Sulieman, first literal, then loose. “Sweet and Lovely” has Griffin at his best, growling and croaking. This band reminds you what fertile soil the old ground was.

The reissue package provides informative documentation, a two-panel nostalgic band shot (Griffin wailing) and remastered sound. A nice touch is the photo of the original master tape box, scribbled over in German, dated “Januar 69,” so long ago and far away.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album All Smiles by the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band on iTunes.

Originally Published