[26 April 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Before he assumed his chameleon colors, nursed stallions into flight, and took sabbaticals to India, superstar trumpeter Maynard Ferguson had a fruitful career as a straight-laced big band leader. What’s strange about this is that Maynard and his orchestra were hitting strides when no one gave a damn about big band anymore. The New Sounds of Maynard Ferguson/Come Blow Your Horn couples two albums from 1963, a time when John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, and Sun Ra were throwing down large, heavy gauntlets that challenged people’s perception of music before the psychedelic era got underway. Meanwhile, Ferguson was still wearing a tie and probably showing up promptly at 9:00 each morning. This isn’t to say that these two albums don’t have a viable following. A quick hop online shows that people still look up to them this day; it’s not cutting-edge stuff, it’s comfort food. And Bret Primack’s liner notes for this two-fer admit that seeing Ferguson’s band perform live back in the day probably fuels the appreciation.
And because both albums were recorded within a calendar year, The New Sounds of Maynard Ferguson and Come Blow Your Horn are not radically different from one another. In fact, the title of the former is a little misleading since Maynard Ferguson had already been doing big band prior to this. The surprises are few, and the swings are sturdy, save for a ferocious reading of “Cherokee” and a rhythm section breakdown in “One O’Clock Jump” that almost makes the sound die down completely. The title Come Blow Your Horn is more apt for the racket on display on both albums, though it sounds more like an invitation Ferguson is extending to his band members than to himself. He was known for making his horn screech into the stratospheres of brass music – a high school music teacher of mine recalls seeing Ferguson’s ‘70s gut instantly disappear as he drew his first breath – but the man doesn’t seem particularly keen on playing his hind off on these dates. As a quote from pianist Mike Abene in the liner notes states, “...Maynard encouraged us to solo. He’d open up the charts so we could blow as much as we wanted.”
The mention of Abene brings me to a troubling aspect to Real Gone/ABKCO’s reissue of these two albums; while the liner notes are thorough in telling the stories behind The New Sounds of Maynard Ferguson and Come Blow Your Horn, there are no band credits listed. You are informed where each song was recorded and which take number was used, but the actual details of who was in the band and what they played are reduced to a microscopic reprint of the original album sleeves inside the CD’s sleeve. Focusing on them brought on a headache.
But in addition of bringing two out-of-print LPs onto one CD, The New Sounds of Maynard Ferguson/Come Blow Your Horn contains an exclusive track sandwiched between the two albums, a previously unreleased run-through of “The Song Is You”. It swings fiercely, enough to hit it and quit in under three minutes. The New Sounds of Maynard Ferguson/Come Blow Your Horn can satisfy listeners in a variety of ways; it rescues two albums of the Cameo label from obscurity. boasts a confrontational mastering job, and provides context to Ferguson’s career. Personally, I’m surprised that one man can go from covering “Take the A Train” and the “Naked City” theme to writing Indian epics like “Misra-Dhenuka” in one lifetime. As implied earlier, these two albums do not blow the lid off tradition – they are the sound of big band raucous being played for its own sake.