This is another previously unknown live set from Uptown Records who have released other similar live albums of jazz. And similar to their other releases, the sound is uniformly good, and the booklet informative. This set is actually between 3 1/2 and 4 "stars" overall.
Duke Pearson issued two other big band jazz albums ("Introducing" and "Now Hear This") under his own name on the Blue Note label around the time (1969) of this live set, and the albums feature some of the same players. The studio dates resulted in good albums, but this new live set allows the band to stretch out and blow, and explore the music. Several tunes are 10+ minutes in length, with the shortest tune clocking in at 7 minutes. The 16 piece band includes Pearson (who also did all the arrangements), with Donald Byrd, Julian Priester, Frank Foster, Lew Tabackin, Pepper Adams, Mickey Roker, Bob Cranshaw, and a few others. Obviously with players like these and Pearson's arranging skills you know the music will be first rate--and it is.
The place is The Left Bank Jazz Society Concert, Famous Ballroom, in Baltimore in April of 1969. This is a fairly relaxed but good session with a number of good/great solos from a number of players. With Pearson's piano, both Foster and Tabackin on tenor saxes, Adams on baritone sax, and Byrd (especially) the music is first rate. And equally important in a big band setting is the rhythm section. And with Roker-drums and Cranshaw-acoustic or electric bass, these compositions are driven along with both an unerring subtle power and with finesse.
Compositions include two tunes that Pearson hadn't recorded on his other albums--Cole Porter's "In The Still Of The Night", and Randy Weston's (also a fine jazz pianist/arranger) "Hi-Fly". Other good tracks are the well known "Tones For Joan's Bones" and (with Byrd on fire) "Straight Up And Down" (both written by Chick Corea), and the modal piece "Eldorado" (a personal favorite--listen to the build-up in the beginning), featuring Donald Byrd (who recorded this on his "Blackjack" album) on trumpet. This is true big band jazz--traditional arrangements, great blowing solos, and fine ensemble playing. The music is in the tradition of Ellington, Basie, and Herman. I'm even reminded at times of some of Sun Ra's very early arrangements he did for big bands. And don't let that last name fool or scare you off--Ra was an excellent arranger who was sought out for his skills in big band arranging.
This unknown live set can sit alongside Pearson's other studio albums of big band jazz--now available as a CD-R with both albums on one disc. Why Pearson isn't more well known among jazz fans is a mystery. He was held in high regard by both record labels and (most importantly) other musicians, and played on a number of other artist's albums. This is worth adding to Pearson's fairly skimpy (especially big band recordings) discography. He was a talented musician and arranger who deserves more notoriety among jazz fans.
If this period of big band jazz is your thing--you might also check out the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra--especially the album "Consummation" (1970), or maybe "Central Park North" (1969), for more good big band jazz.