The remarkable fact about Stan Kenton is that, in the field of modern jazz, he seeks out the bright new talents quite as vigorously as they seek him. In neither case is it a matter of self-interest alone; Kenton is constantly aware of the artistic importance of fresh ideas, and the musicians are equally conscious that their work needs the kind of active encouragement Kenton gives.
This showcase album is an exciting case in point. It exhibits the new writings of a young composer in whose future Stan Kenton has great confidence. Above all, it is a highly stimulating, highly listenable album for everyone who enjoys the dazzling moment of discovery.
BILL RUSSO (Chicago-born, June 25, 1928) has been a Kenton trombonist and arranger since early 1950. He is a conscientious student of art and literature as well as music, and his composition reveals a deep concern for the esthetics of his work. “This album is my first attempt,” he says, “at more organic concepts of writing—at working out something that is unified from beginning to end, while using a variety of new thematic techniques and chordal structures.”
Russo objects to the soulful, romantic approach to composition; he feels that music, like all art, should be consciously designed to express basic truths. “Of course,” he explains, “I want my music to have strong emotional impact, but the best way to achieve this is to think out each idea completely and develop it as carefully as possible. The important thing is that, through this thought, music should help the hearer to hear more.”
Hentoff, Nat. "Record Review. Showcase." Down Beat, 22 September 1954: 12-13.
Stan Kenton A Theme of Four Values; Study for Bass; Blues Before and After; Bacante; Thisbe; Egdon Heath; Sweets; Dusk Bags; Hav-a-Havana; Solo for Buddy; The Opener; Fearless Finlay; Theme and Variations; In Lighter Vein; King Fish.
The first eight are compositions by Bill Russo and the last eight are works by Bill Holman. With the exception of Holman's work for ensemble, Theme and Variations, none of the 16 strikes me as wholly integrated, mature composition. There is in Russo's work, especially, still too much reliance on novel textures and dramatic dynamics as ends in themselves and as coverups for inadequate thematic development and an insecure sense of melodic structure. Russo is more ambitious than Holman, judging from this LP anyway, and he certainly has much talent—as sections of all the numbers indicate, particularly Thisbe and Egdon Heath.
But Bill is still far from what the notes say his basic aim is—“more organic concepts of writing…working out something that is unified from beginning to end…” These works still have too much of that intensely fragmentary touch that tends to hover over the Kenton heath.
Holman writes with less range of mood or content than Russo, but within his more limited scope, he succeeds more often than Bill. One of his main aims, for example, is that “no matter how much is written down, the music should have all the feeling of improvisation. To do this, I try to avoid heavy masses of sound, and keep the music relaxed and full of movement, so individual soloists have as much chance as possible.”
Actually, Holman could still cut down even more on heavy blocks of sound, but there is generally a flowing quality to his writing and his scores do allow the band to swing more consistently than Russo’s (though I’m not sure that swinging in the pulsative sense is always Bill’s aim). Holman’s Theme and Variations, for example, is one of the rare cases where a Kenton band has swung in ensemble all the way. And the other works, too, give the soloists and the band room in which to move. It's too bad the compositions don’t have more to say as communications of imaginative ideas or basic feelings.
Good solo work throughout by the Kenton men. This was one of Stan's most rhythmically alive bands and they convey considerable zest in cutting through what in some cases must have been difficult scores with small time for rehearsal.
Especially noteworthy are Sam Noto, Davey Schildkraut, Candido, Frank Rosolino, Buddy Childers, Charlie Mariano, and Lee Konitz (In Lighter Vein). The recorded sound is good. Again Capitol and Kenton deserve congratulations for investing the time and money to record young writers like Russo and Holman. The investment is a good one, even if most of the initial results are either self-conscious or underdeveloped or both. (Capitol 12" LP W 524)
Barry Ulanov. "Record Review. Kenton Showcase (Holman and Russo)." Metronome. October 1954. 22-23.
Theme of Four Values Study for Bass Blues Before and After Bacante Thiebe Egdon Heath Sweets Dusk LP rating: B
Bags Hav-a-Havana Solo for Buddy The Opener Fearless Finlay Theme and Variations King Fish LP rating: B
These two Kenton Showcase albums feature the compositions of Bill Russo (Values, etc.) and Bill Holman (Bags, etc.). Bill's pieces vary from vehicles for soloists (Theme for Bob Fitzpatrick's bone, Study for Don Bagley's bass, Bacante for Candy Candido's conga drumming) to straight forward jazz (Blues and Sweets), to ensemble and section sounds of an ear-catching nature (Thisbe, Egdon, Dusk). While all of these hold one's attention, it seems to me that Bill would be a more interesting composer if he were to introduce something like the jazz settings he gives soloists and sections in the first two groups into such reflective pieces as the last group.
The notable quality that the Holman scores have is a beat–most of the time; in Finlay, Theme and King, this Bill departs from the jazz groove smothly [sic] but not to any great effect. He is at his best providing Buddy Childer (Solo) with a trumpet line or Lee Konitz with an alto background (Vein), but even in the more pretentious trio singled out above, he shows a skill at scoring that deserves this tribute. (Capitol LP's HS25/6)