Maynard Ferguson's sudden passing in the summer of 2006 was a surprise to many jazz fans, as the always upbeat bandleader seemed indestructible. Just a few weeks prior to his death, the trumpeter took his Big Bop Noveau into the studio to record what evidently is his final album. With a number of creative arrangements and original compositions contributed for the recording by Ferguson's bandmembers, the players took to each of them with the same enthusiasm that their leader showed on a everyday basis. Every track should be considered a highlight of the CD, though saxophonist Chip McNeil's scoring of the standard "Without a Song," trombonist Steve Wiest's percolating arrangement of Bill Withers' often bland "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," and Denis DiBlasio's hip setting of Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses" merit strong praise.
An all-star cast assists Maynard Ferguson in this disco-tinged big-band outing. Ferguson's trademark trumpet playing is featured in all its screaming glory, and Mark Colby contributes a couple of high-energy sax solos. "Primal Scream" and "Invitation" sound as though they were lifted right off the mid-'70s disco dancefloor, complete with T.S.O.P.-type strings and pulsing rhythms. "Pagliacci," too, has the disco beat pounding underneath a Jay Chattaway adaptation of an operatic melody, with Bobby Militello featured on an energetic, overblown flute solo. Chick Corea's "The Cheshire Cat Walk" sounds like latter-day Return to Forever, as Corea's synth trades licks with Ferguson's horn over a familiar RTF rhythmic/chordal bassline sequence. The final cut, Eric Gale's "Swamp," stands out because of its reggae beat.
Maynard Ferguson Octet is an album by Canadian jazz trumpeter/trombonist Maynard Ferguson featuring tracks recorded at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, CA. (tracks 1-5) April 25th 1955, (tracks 6-8) April 27th 1955 and originally released on the EmArcy label 1955. This early triumph from the solo career of the brilliant trumpeter remains bewilderingly rare - it's an avowed West Coast-jazz classic but it's been out of print for years. Verve Originals re-issued this 2008.