For a long time, I had what I now realize was a built-in prejudice against “new” swing music. How, I asked myself, could modern groups be anything but pale imitations of the good old stuff? There was just no way that anyone could compare with Miller, Basie, Goodman…well, you get the idea.
Of course, I was being hard-headed (as I often am, just ask my wife) and eventually I realized that some of the newer guys are not only just as talented as the legends, but can also take us in new directions while at the same time respecting the old stuff. The Bob Mintzer Big Band’s new album, Old School – New Lessons, proves that once again, as the title itself suggests. This is good stuff and fans of swing music old or new will be tickled pink, or whatever color you prefer for your tickling.
Mintzer is a solid and respected pro, not only as a leader of his own groups but also with many years of experience as a sideman for a lot of differently styled bands, all the way from Buddy Rich to Tito Puente. He’s probably best known for his own Big Band and for his long-time participation with the smaller, jazz-rock group called the Yellowjackets.
In addition to his talents on sax, clarinet and flute, he also has solid credentials as a composer and arranger, and his prolific writing has formed the repertoire for big bands all over the world. His many skills have earned him multiple Grammy nominations and a 2001 win in the category best large ensemble.
Although he’s perfectly happy with performing old style swing music, he’s also explored new avenues for the band, including latin and funk — but always with an eye to his jazz roots.
Old School – New Lessons is a good name for the album, with it’s mix of songs that pretty much cover Mintzer’s full spectrum, from the lush, traditional sounds of tunes such as “Not Quite Yet”, with outstanding solos by Minzter on tenor sax and Phil Markowitz on piano, to the latin-funk fusion evident in “Mofongo”. His Yellowjackets’ band-mates join in on that tune and another, “Mosaic”, lending some real variety to the album.
With a wealth of great cuts to choose from on this album, I decided to provide as a sample “Runferyerlife”, which is normally one the Yellowjackets’ pieces, but when heard with the full band it provides a rich reward for listeners because it provides the depth of a large group behind the great individual solos, including Terell Stafford’s brilliant trumpet.
If someone held me down and painfully twisted my arm, I would admit that I wasn’t overly fond of the two songs featuring vocalist Kurt Elling, “My One And Only Love” and Coltrane’s “Resolution”, but maybe that’s just me. I’m sure his fans would enjoy these, and the tunes do provide a change of pace on the album.
Overall, an excellent effort by Mintzer and his friends, and it earns a strong recommendation from this particular music lover.