"20 YEARS AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD." Mel Lewis Orchestra. Atlantic 81655. Formed in 1965 in partnership with the late Thad Jones (who is represented here by his arrangement of "All of Me" and his own "The Interloper"), this impeccable ensemble is splendidly represented, mostly by writers who take full advantage of its cohesive spirit.
Bob Brookmeyer composed the intricate, stirring "American Express" in addition to writing the literate liner notes. Jerry Dodgion's "Butter," dedicated to the late Quentin Jackson, who played in the trombone section, is a brooding, haunting work with Ed Neumeister's plunger-muted trombone in the Jackson tradition.
There is much more to the band than expert writing: Kenny Werner's piano and Dick Oatts' saxophone among a generally first-rate roster of soloists, and Lewis himself, a never-intrusive drummer who has all hands cooking mightily in "C Jam Blues." 5 stars.
"WISHING PEACE." Toshiko Akiyoshi Orchestra. Ascent 1006 (Box 20135, New York City 10025). Akiyoshi's flair for creating excitement through textural and rhythmic values is well illustrated on "Feast in Milano," a 5/4 blues. Her arrangement of Lew Tabackin's elegiac "Unrequited Love" showcases the composer on flute.
The band's alternate flute virtuoso, Frank Wess, has the spotlight in the title work, which forms the second movement of a three-part "Liberty Suite" that takes up the second side. The opening movement is weakened by a marathon-running rhythm section that sounds empty without Akiyoshi's piano, but the work builds to a typically exuberant finale with flute leading the woodwinds, and Jay Anderson's bass. 4 1/2 stars.
"IMAGES." Bill Meyers. Spindletop SPT 114. Led by the pianist-composer, with occasional solos by Ernie Watts and others, this elaborate album of orchestral works, designed as if for a movie sound track, will be of interest mainly to fellow composers who are concerned with the mechanics of this genre of contemporary (but tonal) writing, with a vast instrumentation (more than 40 synthesizers and a battery of strings and horns). The acoustic and electronic sounds are well blended and recorded. 2 1/2 stars.
"WORLD SAXOPHONE QUARTET PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON." Nonesuch 79137. When an avant-garde group tackles traditional material, either something valid on its own terms may emerge or the result may simply be the loss of whatever character the original possessed. Julius Hemphill's transmogrifications of the Strayhorn tunes "Take the A Train" and "Lush Life" use vastly altered chords but retained much of the basic flavor. David Murray's arrangement of "Come Sunday" is no less ingenious. But on "Prelude to a Kiss" and "In a Sentimental Mood," with Oliver Lake's alto sax running amok, it becomes the Wild Saxophone Quartet. "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" will appeal only to those who have no emotional commitment to Ellington's artistry. 3 stars.
"MONEY JUNGLE." Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Max Roach. Blue Note 85129. On the other hand, here's the genuine, original article, in a highly informal setting, playing several off-the-cuff blues and a couple of his melodic gems ("Warm Valley," "Fleurette Africaine"). Of the 11 cuts, taped in 1962, four have never before been released. Though sometimes short on form and planning, the results are long on inspiration. 4 1/2 stars.
"FLIGHT OF FANCY." Sue Raney-Bob Florence. Discovery 931. The title tune is a most attractive new piece by Raney and Florence. This aside, it's a tribute to Alan and Marilyn Bergman, using a dozen of their lyrics, six of which have Michel Legrand melodies. Raney's lucent diction and occasional wordless vocal gymnastics are flawless, but the attempt by Florence to simulate an orchestra by using a roomful of synthesizers, sounds--what else?--synthetic;the calliope-like noises on "His Eyes, Her Eyes" and the whistle effects on "That Face" are as uninspired as the busy, unswinging background on "Sure as You're Born" and the borrowed Monk riff on "Nice 'n Easy." "Take Me Home," with a solo by Bob Badgley on acoustic bass, comes off well; "Make Me Rainbows" is a happy collaboration. For Raney, 5 stars; for the setting, 3; on balance, 4.