This CD showcases what must have been one of Kenton`s best Bands in terms of musical skill and talent. Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Childers,Frank Rossilino, Bill Russo, Lee Konitz and Bill Holman demonstrate verve, power and sharp section discipline in this 1952 studio recording session in Chicago. The original 10" LP did not include the first and last tracks on side one and side two and these added tracks on the CD do not seem to be in the same class as the rest of the works. Bill Russo, Gerry Mulligan and Bill Holman scored most of the numbers that give a faultless band this impressive workout. The two Mulligan numbers generate the classic big band swing sound,whilst Bill Russo`s contrast with the `Improvisation` track is almost `orchestral` along the lines of Kenton`s own `Concerto to End All Concertos`. Having been a Kenton fan for 45 years and heard Kenton play live in the 60`s and 70`s, I would say that no Kenton fan should be without this CD.
This must be one of Kenton's best bands but it only warrants four stars because of two fairly dud tracks. 'Prologue (This is an Orchestra)' is ten minutes of Stan introducing the members of the band, most of whom then take a brief solo. Nobody stretches out although nobody plays badly. In a concert hall or a club it would have worked very well, with Stan's compelling personality coming over, but here it's a bit of a waste of time. 'Lonesome Train' is a vehicle for the band singer Kay Brown. It's an exercise in monotony but she is not good enough to be anything but monotonous. Otherwise everything is superb. The orchestrations, mainly by Bill Russo and Gerry Mulligan, are exciting, swinging, and although advanced in parts, not over the top, as Kenton sometimes could be. The band boasts a fine roster of soloists, including Conte Candoli, Buddy Childers, Maynard Ferguson, Frank Rosolino, Bob Burgess, Lee Konitz, Richie Kamuca, Bill Holman and Sal Salvador. Could any band boast better? Don Bagley and Stan Levey on bass and drums drive the whole thing along. Particular standouts are 'Portrait of a Count' (not Basie) which is a feature for Conte Candoli who plays a beautifully balanced and moving solo and 'Frank Speaking' for you know who, showing just how the trombone can be played if you're good enough. Lee Konitz has a ballad feature on 'My Lady' and Bob Burgess on trombone one on 'You Go To My Head', both attractive numbers played with feeling and style. Maynard Ferguson and Sal Salvador are featured on 'Invention For Guitar And Trumpet', an unlikely pairing which works very well. There is plenty of solo work from the other horns, all of high quality. If you take the two duds out there is about 35 minutes here of the highest quality music. I don't know, maybe it should be five stars.