One of jazz's most commercially successful trumpeters, Maynard Ferguson has a keen sense of what trend will keep him visible.
In the late '40s and early '50s, he was playing swing with Jimmy Dorsey and Stan Kenton. In the mid '50s, he worked in the studio and was on top of the bebop craze with an influential group featuring Hank Jones and Milt Hinton. Ferguson expanded this outfit into a bebop big band in the early '60s, and his arranging style for that group would have a lasting impact on pop music. It was the model Al Kooper used when he formed the historic jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears.
When fusion took over in the '70s, Ferguson was there with an endless supply of blatantly commercial big-band fusion albums (some great, some absolutely wretched), which sold tons of units and included covers of such pop songs as "MacArthur Park," "Gonna Fly Now" and "The Way We Were."
Sensing bebop was making a comeback, Ferguson formed the ten-piece Big Bop Nouveau Band in the late '80s. Combining standard bop-style originals with pop, the Big Bop Nouveau Band is like most of the groups Ferguson has led for the past 30 years: a high-energy arrangement that's something of a revolving-door jazz lab for young players. The sound is bright and highly accessible. And absent are the angry solos and dissonant phrasings manifest in pure bop. But while the music's not always challenging, it's usually well executed and lots of fun. As for Ferguson, his 70-year-old lips can still hit those piercing, trademarked high notes with amazing precision, and his chops, though not what they once were, still awe most kids in jazz clinics. Always commercially conscious, Ferguson may pull out some swing chart hits from his Dorsey and Kenton days. At least he can play them with some authenticity.
-- Paul J. MacArthur
Foundation for the Arts & Cultural Enrichment (FACE) presents Maynard Ferguson and his Big Bop Nouveau Band Saturday, February 20, at 8 p.m. at The Centrum, 6823 Cypresswood Dr. Call Ticketmaster at (713)629-3700 or (281)440-4850 for more information.
The Ex -- These Dutch anarchists have been able to release 16 records without repeating themselves once. No cookie-cutter, three-chord thrash here. Since forming in 1979 they have embraced European folk music, world-beat percussion, dissonant guitar crunch, improvisation and interval-jumping, um, melodies. Taking cues from their inclusionary political beliefs, these musicians have collaborated with anyone who asks: Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, avant-garde cellist Tom Cora, Captain Beefheart vocalist Hans Buhrs, a Belgian comedy team, dance groups and postrockers Tortoise. On The Ex's latest record, Starters Alternators (Touch and Go), recorded by Steve Albini, the six-string squalls of Andy and Terrie (no last names) provide the attitude as singer G.W. Sok contributes plenty of sarcasm. But it is the herky-jerky, start-stop rhythm section of bassist Luc and drummer Katrin that really propels the band. The Ex offers a musical smorgasbord, as the band shows no signs of slowing down or being any less caustic. Its sense of daring and experimentalism has led the band to invent a new kind of punk -- more adventurous musically than the in-your-face kind and certainly more enduring. The Ex plays Friday, February 19, at 9 p.m. at Mary Jane's, 4216 Washington Ave., (713)863-9985. Tickets are $10. Open to those 18 and older. (David Simutis)
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