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New old music - part 2

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Nathan Strum

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I actually got this DVD months ago, but never got around to reviewing it:

 

world-of-mf.jpg

 

The World of Maynard Ferguson was a TV special produced in 1970, featuring Maynard and his big band, plus some special guests. Just prior to this period, Maynard had hung out with Timothy Leary for awhile and had a brief fling with under-the-counter medicine, went to India where he was influenced by the culture and music and got bit by a snake, and then moved to England where he formed a completely new band. "The World of Maynard Ferguson" was also the title of his first album with this new band (retitled "M.F. Horn" in the U.S.A.).

 

This was a transition period for Maynard, where he was stepping out of traditional big band sounds, and beginning to incorporate more pop and rock into his sound. For better or worse, some of those sounds were from the whole "flower-child" era of pop music, such as covers of "Bridge over troubled water", "Age of Aquarius", "Fire and rain", "My sweet Lord", and a surprisingly excellent version of "MacArthur Park". Go figure.

 

This TV special is a result of both the successes he was having with his new band and the influences he was under (um... I mean the musical influences...). And while there are some amazing performances here, there's also a fair amount of nearly unwatchable dreck. The special has not aged well, and at times it really shows.

 

The problem mainly stems from Maynard's musical guests. Frankly, I'd never heard of any of them, save for jazz singer Jon Hendricks, and I only know of him because he happened to be on a Manhattan Transfer album some 23 years ago that was a big success. A little bit of Jon Hendricks goes a very long ways, as far as I'm concerned.

 

A couple of Maynard's guests were pop-artist-flavor-of-the-week Sylvia McNeill singing Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" (yes... it sounds about the way you expect it would), and the pseudo-socially-conscious-anti-establishment-yet-still-completely-harmless-bubblegum-pop-group "Arrival" singing "I Will Survive" (not Gloria Gaynor's version) and "This World". Both pop entities seemingly vanished without a trace shortly thereafter, and despite the wealth of information on the internet about just about every useless thing to ever exist, it took some digging to even turn up a few links about these two.

 

Maynard's other guests were classical guitarist John Williams (no relation), Indian musician Mukunda, and Swami Bhavyananda.

 

The special played like a combination of an episode of Sonny and Cher (inane banter, tacky 70's fashions, cheesy production numbers), Xanadu (roller skating musical sequence), 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee (which has to be seen to be believed) and a Maynard Ferguson concert. It was just... weird.

 

A handful of the performances were apparently recorded live, though most were obviously pre-recorded and mimed over. Some of Maynard's distinctive playing was shoehorned into the pop songs, which he had to pretend to play while the groups were pretending to sing. It just never worked. "Arrival" attempted to look angry or serious or relevant the whole time, but you really can't pull that off while swinging from flower-laden trapezes or roller skating. Sylvia McNeill just wandered aimlessly around the stage lip synching and attempting to make some sort of connection with an audience that looked bored or stoned or both.

 

Maynard's miming was... an admirable attempt. When he's really playing - you can tell he's playing. Even though he's a show-off and a bit of a goof, you can tell he means business and he delivers the goods. But when he's miming - he's all over the place, moving around like a hyperactive five-year-old with a trumpet (or in one song, a trumpet, flugelhorn, baritone and valve trombone). He looks desperately square, while desperately trying to act hip. But even though he looks silly (or downright hysterical at times) at least his dancing moves are 60's fresh! Watch out, Davy Jones!

 

John William's number was really very good, but far too long. At least in the context of this special. Prior to the show's last number, Maynard introduces his meditation guru, who then talks about meditation, and invites the studio audience as well as the home audience to participate. Yeah... that's good TV. Invite the audience at home to sit and do nothing, while watching people on TV sitting and doing nothing. Fortunately, they only aired a few of the twenty minutes the session actually went on for.

 

"The World of Maynard Ferguson" is an interesting historical artifact, but that's about all it is. The good stuff is all on YouTube, and the picture quality on the DVD isn't much better. The original film elements were lost, and the DVD was mastered from a VHS tape.

 

Adding to the value a little bit (for fans), is an interview with Maynard's manager from the period - Ernie Garside. Unfortunately, he mentions almost nothing about the special. A commentary track from him or some of the band members would have been most welcomed (and probably pretty funny). There's also a collection of short clips of Maynard in performance from the last 10 years or so of his life. Unfortunately, they're just short clips for the most part. Not complete songs.

 

Overall, I'd give it a 4/10. Strictly for die-hard fans and collectors only.

 

Here's the track listing for the special, with some YouTube links:

El Dopa (live performance - excellent soloing)

Give Me That Wine - with Jon Hendricks

Chelsea Morning - Sylvia McNeill

This World - Arrival

(mimed performance - but still an excellent mix of Indian music and Western jazz)

- Arrival

Got The Spirit - with Jon Hendricks (not a big fan of Hendricks, but Maynard plays a killer opening cadenza)

Sor Variations On A Theme By Mozart - John Williams

Fox Hunt (mimed, but with Maynard on four instruments - the track is available on Lost Tapes vol. 1)

People (also mimed - well played, but I'm not a big fan of people who need people)

MacArthur Park (mimed - during credits)

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