February 5, 1995

Stan Kenton Would Approve

Don Adair
 

Bob Curnow believes that his record, “The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays,” is a fair representation of how a modern Stan Kenton Band would sound.

Kenton died in 1976, so it’s impossible to say, but as one of the band leader’s last arrangers, Curnow is in a good position to know.

“The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays” uses the standard big band instrumentation typical of Kenton’s earlier years, before his bands grew bottom-heavy with deep-throated baritone and bass saxes.

Curnow scored the Metheny and Mays compositions with plenty of Kentonian counterpoint and a wide dynamic range: “Everybody thinks of Kenton’s band as a loud band and it was, but it was also a band that would play softer than you could hear.”

The arranger also finds a Latin connection: Metheny and Mays love Latin rhythms and so did Kenton: “His was one of the first bands to get into Cuban music, for example, with `Cuban Fire.”’

And, like Metheny and Mays, Kenton enjoyed experiments with odd meters, especially after the death of trumpeter and big band leader Don Ellis, who more or less passed on the mantle. “Much of Pat’s music is built that way, in 7/4 or 6/8,” Curnow said.

“The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays” will delight Kenton fans and intrigue the more open-minded among the legions of Metheny and Mays supporters.

The perspective of time enables Curnow to avoid some of the Kenton band’s excesses and accentuate its strengths. The record is packed with big brassy sections and blazing trumpets, but its real strengths are found in the ballads and restrained midtempo pieces - especially those based on Latin rhythms, where Curnow employs an especially tasty touch.

He creates marvelous harmonics for the ballad “Always and Forever,” which also features a poignant Bobby Shew solo. The darkly beautiful ballad “Minuano (Six Eight)” carries only a hint of its Latin influences in the percussion before easing into a handsome jaunt that supports another fine Shew solo and a clever contrapuntal march section. And be sure to check out the beautiful piano treatment of the melody on “Letter From Home.”

On rare occasion, the music lapses into Kentonian cliche: The final moments of an otherwise spectacular version of “The First Circle” are weakened by a bit of drama reminiscent of the “MacArthur Park”/Blood, Sweat and Tears oeuvre.

But that’s a minor complaint within a record that works on every level. Ears grown weary of electronic effects will welcome the transition of these beautiful songs from the synthesizers of Metheny and Mays into the rich timbres of an excellent orchestra.

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