Jazz Review

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JAZZ REVIEW was a short lived jazz magazine, published from November 1958 until January 1961, and co-edited by Nat Hentoff and Martin Williams.
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Mimi Carr. "Record Review. The Kenton Touch." Jazz Review. June 1960. 25-26.
STAN KENTON: "The Kenton Touch". Capitol ST 1276.

; Monotony; Elegy For Alto; Theme for Sunday; Ballade For Drums; Minor Riff; The End of the World; Opus in Chartreuse; Painted Rhythm; A Rose For David.

After “progressive,” the word most often associated with Stan Kenton is “innovation.” An album like this is neither progress nor innovation; it is convention—convention at its most predictable. If you’ve listened to modern classical compositions you’ve heard this Kenton, and if you’ve listened to Kenton once you’ve heard Kenton; pat techniques and formulas—modern and contemporary and progressive to be sure—but formulas too much in use by modern classical composers of yesterday and today to impart to the music any of Kenton’s own personality. It’s gotten so you know exactly what to expect from Kenton: brassy dissonance, “atonal” meanderings, vague linear direction, an occasional jazz cadenza, and that oh-so-somber ponderousness in the slow works. You half expect Stan to yell out “This is an orchestra!” at the end of each section. There is little contrast in “
The Kenton Touch.” Now and then a Latinish beat will be turned on or a guitar will surface above the strings, but the break is only momentary. The works consist mostly of tonal masses of sound overloaded and laden with strings and lacking dominant and subordinate elements. The lines wander around indecisively, and one track leads right into the next with little if any change. What results is not jazz, nor is it modern classical—hardly music.

I understand that Stan Kenton really believes in what he is doing, and that he is earnest and dedicated and, undaunted by past failures, persistently strives for a new balance between symphonic music and jazz. Perhaps when he discovers a composer capable of successfully carrying out out his ideas, he will attain the status he apparently seeks.
Don Heckman. "Record Review. Standards in Silhouette." Jazz Review. November 1960. 27-28.
STAN KENTON: "Standards In Silhouette". Capitol T 1394.

Stan Kenton, piano; John Bonnie, Marvin Holladay, Charlie Mariano, Jack Nimitz, Bill Trujillo, saxes; Bud Brisbois, Bill Chase, Rolf Ericson, Roger Middleton, Dalton Smith, trumpets; Jim Amlotte, Bob Knight, Kent Larsen, Archie LeCoque, Don Sebesky, trombones; Pete Chivily, bass; Jimmy Campbell, drums; Mike Pacheco, William Rodriguez, percussion. (Clyde Reasinger for Dalton Smith on The Meaning of the Blues and Lonely Woman.)

Willow Weep For Me; The Thrill Is Gone; The Meaning of the Blues; When Sunny Gets Blue; III Wind; Django, I Get Along Without You Very Well; Lonely Woman.

It would be foolish and short-sighted to deny that this is a very good band. I suspect that they could perform almost any piece of music one would care to place before them. But how much of music is performance alone? It was not performance alone that made such great musical organizations of the Ellington and Basie bands of the thirties. It was rather a matter of the heart; of the genuine individual spirit. That is why Duke’s band, for instance, sounded different when there was a personnel change: the balance was altered, sometimes ever so slightly, but here was a new man with a new story of his own that had to come together with all the others. I don’t know; maybe it was a reflection of the times. But in this day of secure, organized group conformity, other needs must be met. Art sems [
sic] no longer to be a symbolic projection of intense individualism. The collective has come into its own. Kenton reflects his times. He presents a catalogue of readily available and superficial emotions for the taking; a quick thrill for the safe inhabitants of this Herald Tribune-ized America; feeling without experience, the cheapest, most abundant commodity in popular entertainment today.

I do not mean to detract from Bill Matheiu’s considerable talents, but I think he is rather typical of the arrangers Kenton has used in the past (with the possible exception of Bill Holman). The vision has been primarily Kenton’s, and the arrangers have, in the main, only been used to fill out the gaps in a picture that is not their own. So much of this music since the “
Artistry” days has been constructed so as to give the greatest degree of emotional impact to the widest possible audience. This is “talking down” at its worst and Kenton has often been guilty of it. And, the notes for his “Kenton Era” recordings indicates that he still retains an incredibly distorted viewpoint of his own contributions.

Two of the numbers here have been recently arranged and recorded by Gil Evans. The contrast between this recording and the Gil Evans versions is self-evident. The emotional coloration in Evans’ music is only one element of design and develops naturally as its many parts all come together; never as an end in itself.
Django is a good example. The Kenton arrangement does nothing more than skim the surface, using a unison statement of the theme in a sort of psuedo-waltz time, but in 4/4. Harmonization is simple, relying on altered chords and thick orchestration. The central devlopment [sic] is given to an alto solo with a peculiarly distracting insertion of the well-known bass theme in the middle. When the alto finishes, the band builds in this figure, stamping Kenton’s screaming brass trademark on the chart. Not really a bad arrangement, but a characterless one. Like the vapid faces of the Rheingold girls, all the elements are in the right places, but their total is less than the sum of the parts because they reflect inner emptiness. The Evans chart, as I’ve mentioned previously here is quite different. From the concisely inter- woven piano and soprano solos to the final explosive climax, it is a model of developing musical complexity. All of the parts look both inward and out, balancing feeling and emotion with logic and form. Perhaps it is too much to expect even a modicum of this sort of concern for musical values from a man who professes to hold artistic considerations above all others, but Kenton has shown little in the way of musical results to justify his words.

The other piece common to this recording and Evans’ "
Miles Ahead" album is The Meaning of the Blues. Again the difference is obvious, specifically in intention. Evans’ voicings, despite their richness, are never static, but have a continuous movement, both in color and in complexity. Bill Matheiu’s chart is considerably more prosaic, relying principally on Ericson’s trumpet and an accompaniment of thick trombones and harmon-muted trumpets. It never becomes more than a pleasant, but turgid, dance band ballad. The remaining numbers are of similar quality, with little movement or change in attitude. There are, however, several good moments: Archie LeCoque’s trombone on Ill Wind, Charlie Mariano’s alto on I Get Along Without You Very Well and the ensemble on When Sunny Gets Blue.

Although this is neither the best nor the worst he has ever had, this is unquestionably a Kenton band. All the trademarks are there, obvious to the most casual listener. I wonder what this group of talented musicians would sound like if they were allowed to gain their own personality. Their musical aptitude is excellent, and it is only those elusive factors of character and individuality that are missing. Perhaps if Kenton were able to use his qualities of leadership in this direction, he would acquire his first real jazz band.