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Stan Kenton: Tunes and Topics

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Although there is no ghost band playing the Stan Kenton sound, the legend and legacy of 37 years’ work is being kept alive via sporadic releases of ’70s concerts by Tantara Productions. The indie label’s fourth issue features two CDs of music with a bonus of a fascinating interview with Kenton on two separate CDs.

The two hours-plus concert was recorded October 6, 1970 at a hotel in Dayton, Ohio. The sound quality is excellent, with very little audience-noise distraction. The band creates a storm of sound on 20 tracks, with “Bogota,” “The Peanut Vendor” and “Malaguena” the most exuberant and electrifying. Ballad readings of “Here’s That Rainy Day” and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” are richly rhapsodic.

The concert program featured three elements: spectacular arrangements of jazz standards including “Rainy Day,” “Rest of Your Life” and “Girl Talk;” dazzling originals like “Chiapas” and “Intermission Riff;” and pop hits “Hey Jude,” “MacArthur Park” and “Tonight” reconfigured to fit Kenton’s orchestral format. The band was in top form that night to deliver the brilliant harmonies and colorful textures that were Kenton trademarks.

The 80-minute interview fills 35 short tracks, seamlessly edited into segments and wisely separated from the recorded performance. Kenton’s comments begin with the band’s birth and evolution, then deal with his changing concepts for the band (progressive, innovations, Cuban, mellophonium, neophonic) and continue with anecdotes about individual players and writers. The interview was conducted in 1972 by Bob Foskett, a high school speech teacher, as a documentary for the school’s FM radio station. The interview proves the leader to be as articulate as he was musically creative, and provides invaluable insight into the mind behind the master of the stunning fury that was the Stan Kenton sound.