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24 years later

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Nathan Strum

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Yep. Another album review.

 

I've been waiting for this one to come out on CD since, well, since CDs first came out.

 

Why some albums take forever to come out on CD is beyond me, but better late than never.

 

In this case though, it's not just one album... but two!

 

mfhorn345.jpg

 

MF Horn 3 and MF Horn 4 & 5: Live at Jimmy's by Maynard Ferguson. This finally completes the CD release of all of his Columbia albums.

 

Now, not all of the work he did while he was with Columbia was all that great. Some of it was very commercial. Some of it was laughable. And some of it, was unlistenable.

 

But not so with these albums.

 

MF Horn 3 is a great fusion of jazz and rock, and is one of his best albums of that era. In fact, unlike pretty much every other Columbia studio album Maynard recorded, there isn't a single track on here that I feel like skipping over when listening to it. The standout track is "Awright, Awright", which has what can only be described as a "funky groove" to it. (Bear in mind, I almost never use the term "funky groove".) There's some first-rate soloing on this album, and even Maynard playing around with a wah wah pedal on his trumpet solo in "Mother Fingers". MF Horn 3 also has the single best ballad that Maynard ever recorded, in my opinion: "Love Theme from The Valachi Papers". I've never seen the movie, so I don't know the context of the original song, but this version is exceptional, and Maynard manages to play a beautiful flugelhorn solo that, in all honesty, doesn't sound anything like the way he usually plays one. (For those unfamiliar with it, the flugelhorn has a much softer, mellower tone to it than the trumpet.)

 

But as good as MF Horn 3 is, it's not the reason I bought this two CD set. It was for MF Horn 4 & 5: Live at Jimmy's.

 

MF Horn 4 & 5 was a double live album recorded in 1973, and has been among my favorite albums since I first bought the LP many years ago. It's also been a fan favorite and a critically acclaimed album since its original release, which only deepens the mystery of why it took so long to get issued on CD. Moreover, is why Sony didn't release it themselves, and it took an independent company in the UK to finally make this happen. But the important thing is - the album is finally out on CD!

 

While there are hints of Maynard's jazz/rock fusion here, the album is pretty much straight-ahead, high-powered, big band jazz at its best. There's some phenomenal soloing throughout (notably by Bruce Johnstone on baritone sax in "Got The Spirit", and Bob Summers and Maynard dueling with trumpets in "Fox Hunt"), and the excellent arrangements make the 12 piece band (plus Maynard) seem much larger than they are. Yet because of the compactness of the group, and their skill, the band is much tighter than a larger group could have been. It's a great combination of power, flexibility and speed. Just the right balance of instruments. Just the right mix of musicians.

 

Maynard toured with groups like this for years, and his live concerts were always where the real music could be heard, even when some of his studio albums became mired in commercialism.

 

There's been some criticism (more like whining, actually) on the message boards over at Maynard's website about some overdubbing being done on this album. I don't know if there was or not. It wouldn't surprise me (as "fixing" live albums was pretty common at the time), but it doesn't really matter. The end result is what counts. This is the album Maynard wanted to release, and is what represented his live shows at the time. It's well worth having, if you're a fan of jazz at all, or just really good music. Although if you live in the USA, you might want to wait until Amazon carries it. As for me, I couldn't wait. The only thing that could make this better is if there were more tracks still in the vault that could have been added to it. But two albums, and an hour and 42 minutes of great jazz is hard to beat!

 

In fact, I'm giving this two disc set a 10/10. Beat that!

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Both of these albums are now available on the Wounded Bird label (part of Sony Music Group), which means if you're in the U.S., you don't have to pay for imports any more (the ones in the review were for the UK releases by Dutton Vocallion). Just click on over to Amazon for either MF Horn 3 or MF Horn 4 & 5.

 

Wounded Bird released all of Maynard's other Columbia-era albums on CD (except for "The Ballad Styles of Maynard Ferguson"), and the sound quality is excellent. I haven't done a direct comparison with the Dutton Vocallion versions, but the sound seems better, even after the first listen. Very highly recommended - especially MF Horn 4&5, which recently re-entered the Billboard jazz charts at #21!

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