West side story was undoubtedly Bernstein's absolute masterpiece appealing to all music lovers at one level or another. Further it encompassed the vibrancy of youth in a progressive period of American history in and around the most alive city in the world, New York!
This disc does everything I like about big bands, recognisable tunes played with a jazz lift! Actually of course it is tightly orchestrated by Johnny Richards for the large Kenton band which included Mellophoniums, i.e. a wall of brass quite like any other. At times the brass is very loud but generally speaking you admire the musicality of this disc, especially the restraint that is used and of course there is not a note out of place. Yet it's not clinical but warm and lovingly done, never over powering.
Some numbers are pure sixties sounds, like the prologue, others like "Maria" are very Kentonesque, a bit of piano, some saxes then the laid back plaintive brass with some bongo drums before a typical Kenton finish.
Anyone familiar with Bernstein's own symphonic dances culled from West Side story will probably like this set. That's what it reminds me of, but of course no strings! "America" particularly is very symphonic in conception here and very original in hardly allowing the familiar themes to fully emerge until the last quartile and then another text book finish.
Winner of a Grammy Award in 1961 and a top seller, 28 weeks in the Billboard charts peaking at no 16, quite something for a jazz album even then!
As the re-issue of the original LP with no extras it's a bit short by today's standards but probably just long enough nevertheless. Stereo and sound are like new, in fact probably better than, no dust and static clicks and my modest stereo has the bass response and other frequency ranges to handle what could sound too heavy otherwise (sadly we had nothing like this in the sixties)!!!
Summary: Kenton orchestra sounding fabulous in highly individual, immensely enjoyable arrangements highly recommended!