By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Mad about Thad
“Thad” is Thad Jones, the trumpeter/composer/arranger member of the Jones clan (all now deceased) that also included pianist Hank and drummer Elvin. Thad Jones’ professional career began with Count Basie, continued as a freelance composer and arranger in New York City, and then he and Mel Lewis formed the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Orchestra, one of the best big bands from the 1960s onward.
The New York Jazz Initiative was founded in 2008, to foster the advancement, creative spirit and appreciation of jazz arts through education and performance activities that harness the talents of master musicians, to educate and inspire the next generation of performers and listeners.
This memorial album features eight tunes from Thad Jones “book” of compositions, performed by 10 swinging artists: Rob Derke, Ralph Lalama and Steve Wilson (sax); David Smith (trumpet/flugelhorn); Sam Burtis and Mike Meyers (trombone, although Burtis also is featured on tuba); Carlo de Rosa (bass); Eric Mcpherson (drums); and Art Hirahara and David Bryant (piano). Rob Derke, Justin Flynn and Toby Wine wrote the arrangements.
Jones utilized dense chords that used dissonant voicings. That, in turn, necessitated correctly tuned performance by the instrumentalists. Jones used a lot of minor seconds and major sevenths, particularly in long, powerful chords. The resulting “voicing” is quite evident in the album selections.
The difference between that approach, and the sound created by most bands playing at the time, was a key element to the excitement that the Lewis/Jones band created for listeners. The first track on this album (“Bird Song”) is a perfect illustration of Jones’ voicing technique and, additionally, features a wonderfully swinging tuba solo by Burtis.
Jones loved tempo changes. “Quiet Lady” is done as a waltz; “Mean What You Say” is a ballad, as is his best-known chart, “A Child Is Born.” “Three and One” is Latin-tinged, and both “Lady Luck” and “Evel Deklaw Ni” are neat mid-tempo tunes that present some great solo work by group members.
The closer, “Elusion,” features some grooving ensemble choruses by the reed section and a tasty piano solo by Bryant.
All the Jones brothers were exceptional, but — perhaps because of his association with the Lewis/Jones orchestra — Thad was a tad more special.