Jazz CD Reviews

U.S. Military Band – Jazz Ambassadors – The Legacy of Mary Lou Williams – Altissimo

Mary Lou Williams’s compositions done with style and verve.

Published on February 5, 2012

U.S. Military Band – Jazz Ambassadors – The Legacy of Mary Lou Williams – Altissimo

The United States Military Band – Jazz Ambassadors – The Legacy of Mary Lou Williams – Altissimo ALT 62102 60:53 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Mary Lou Williams was one of those musicians who overcame a variety of impediments in her early life to become one of America’s seminal composers and arrangers’. This disc reprises many her well-known compositions which are done with style and verve designed to reveal the meaning the composer intended.

While the song list is not necessarily in chronological order, it does lay out her writing and arranging starting with her earliest forays in the late 20s and early 30s. “Roll ‘Em”, “Messa Stomp” and Walkin’ and Swinging” are from that period and the band delivers accordingly in a boogie-woogie style with the rhythm section supporting the melodies with a typical 30s “chugga chugga” beat. Part of the challenge facing the Jazz Ambassadors is that they do not have a readily identifiable sound.  But there are some first rate soloists such as pianist SFC Tim Young, who is clearly at the forefront on all three noted tunes.

“Scorpio” forms part of Williams well-known “Zodiac Suite” which foreshadowed some of her progressive musical ideas and here features guest artist Geri Allen on piano.” Blue Skies” was originally arranged for the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1943 and this take showcases the lead trumpet of SFC Paul Stevens. In 1949 Williams penned the somewhat facetious “In The Land of Oo Bla Dee” for the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and on this rendition guest singer Andy Bey does the honors. Although this aggregation may not call themselves professional musicians, they clearly are up to dealing with demanding material with which they imbue energy and life. Listen to the tight harmonies on “Chunka Lunka” and the melodic line contained on “Tisherome”. The band continues to deliver in the same swinging fashion on the remainder of the disc with some especially interesting solo breaks by SFC Andrew Layton soprano sax on “Rosa Mae” and SFC Pat Shook clarinet on “Miss D.D.”.

This session is a continuation of a number of legacy outings that this group has done for the likes Hank Levy, Sammy Nestico, Stan Kenton and Benny Carter. This band can really play and the disc is deserving of support.

TrackList: Roll ‘Em; Messa Stomp; Walkin’ and Swingin’; Scorpio; Blue Skies; Big Jim Blues; In The Land of Oo Bla Dee; Chunka Lunka; Tisherome; Knowledge; What’s Your Story Morning Glory; Rosa Mae; MissD.D.; Act of Contrition.

—Pierre Giroux



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