You know the way you get a tune stuck in your head and it plays over and over again until it drives you crazy? Well, that’s apparently what happened to Gerald Wilson.
Wilson is one of our best big-band composers and arrangers and often, as here, his talent attracts exceptional musicians. He has an enviable string of CD successes. "Viva Tirado" is one of the best Latin big-band arrangements ever, and the creative juices still flow. The 2005 release In My Time is as good as anything he’s done in a career that’s been successful ever since he wrote and arranged for the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra in the late 30s.
"Monterey Moods Suite," however, misses the mark, and the tribute to the famous festival takes up seven of the nine tracks on Monterey Moods. Though said moods are varied and colorful and the soloists often compelling, all seven suite-tracks are based on the same riff. A variation with three notes up and then descending groups of three dominates most tracks to remind listeners of the three syllables of the word "Monterey." Tempos, orchestrations and dance rhythms change in ways that show Wilson’s absolute mastery of the standard big-band, but the short phrases that bear the melodic and harmonic weight just aren’t interesting enough to be effective for seven tracks, however much they may make you think of Mon-te-rey.
The moods are well named. "Allegro" features a straight-ahead Basie-influenced arrangement that introduces a killer trumpet section led by Jon Faddis. Antonio Hart (alto) and Hubert Laws (flute) take the honors by a nose among a strong group of soloists. The ensemble is sweet and tight.
The lacy flutes of "Jazz Swing Waltz" bring a lighter mood. The intro of occasionally McCoy Tynerish pianist Renee Rosnes and a playful flugelhorn conversation between Faddis and Terell Stafford are highlights. The remaining segments of the suite include two fine Latin arrangements, though the reeds have some brief, oddly out-of-tune section-work on "Latin Swing." The mostly tender "Ballad" features the outstanding rhythm section under the lead of Anthony Wilson (guitar). He is Gerald’s son and a band leader in his own right. The suite wraps up with "Hard Swing," a return to smash-mouth brass.
The two tracks following the suite show what might have been if not for Wilson’s earworm. "I Concentrate on You" is taken at a dreamy, languorous tempo and features additional fine guitar work by Anthony Wilson. A swinging, up-tempo tune by dad called "The Mini Waltz" concludes the outing.
I can’t tell big-band fans not to buy Monterey Moods. This is a great orchestra; Gerald Wilson puts on an arranger’s clinic; and just look at the personnel. But the limited melodic and harmonic base has these fine soloists in a straight-jacket, and the three-note Monterey phrase wears out its welcome. Most listeners would be happier with In My Time. It’s a terrific album.