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Stan Kenton: Revelations: Repertoire Rarities 1940-1978

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There has always been much to admire in and learn from the Kenton orchestra, and Revelations does a great job of presenting the band’s creative evolution. Working largely from airshots and live recordings, the producers have worked hard to capture the character and essence of the band through its protean life span. French horns and mellophoniums came and went, but the core and commitment of the band seem constant: Bring in the freshest approach to the jazz orchestra, make the soundfield as broad and deep as possible and give the soloists plenty to play with and play against.

There are too many highlights to list here-and too many players as well-but a few will give a sense of the producers’ achievements. It is wonderful to get better acquainted with Red Dorris’ tenor solos, so apt and on point; young Art Pepper’s prodigious talent straining at the bounds of the arrangements, helping to define the tension that is so much a part of the Kenton sound; and it is fascinating to hear the band and its sound evolve.

Clearly Kenton abhorred stasis, and he was clearly out to provide a challenging musical environment that would hold his interest and that of his players, while at the same time giving his audience something they could get familiar with. The band in the ’40s, despite the sensation of “Artistry in Rhythm,” had yet to become the creative powerhouse that Kenton imagined, and the strong points in the band’s book are undermined by weaker points-for example, a not-too-sophisticated “Sophisticated Lady.” The French horn and mellophonium bands, and the concert band, supplied fresh sounds, but Kenton took care to maintain singers who could provide hooks for the audience. By the later ’60s and ’70s, the presence of tunes such as “It Was a Very Good Year” and “(The Age of) Aquarius” hints at the desperation of the big bands trying to reconnect with an audience beyond musicians and aficionados. This is a fascinating document of an important and long-lived musical force.