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Jazz Spotlight

July 31, 1994|BILL KOHLHAASE

RAY ANDERSON

"Big Band Record"

Gramavision

* * *

Trombonist Anderson has finally found a setting equal to his blustery, multicolored sound. Known for tonally adventurous slide work, Anderson has often overwhelmed previous material and ensembles, whether it be funk-oriented, like his beat-minded collaboration with Mark Helias dubbed Slickaphonics, or avant-garde experiments with the likes of Anthony Braxton.

"Big Band Record" references both, while working mainly from a traditional base that gains inspiration from Duke Ellington ("My Wish"), Charles Mingus ("Anabel at One") and Thelonious Monk ("Raven-A Ning"). The tunes, all composed by Anderson, shift gears faster than Emerson Fittipaldi, accelerating out of gentle brass riffs into rubber-burning fanfares, cornering hard through stomp-and-shout passages as soloists break from the pack.

Anderson's voice, gamy and full of rhythmic punch, is given fine complement by pianist George Gruntz's Concert Jazz Band, with clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, trumpeters Ryon Kisor and Lew Soloff, violinist Mark Feldman and alto saxophonist Tim Berne all contributing spirited improvisations. But Anderson is clearly the standout, his solos filled with a style-conscious singer's repertoire of growls, grunts and whispers, topped off with soaring climaxes.

The only predictable aspect on the disc is Gruntz's brassy arrangements of Anderson's compositions. But when the entire 18-piece ensemble gets wailing, as it does in upbeat, danceable fashion on "The Literary Lizard," the sheer volume of sound overcomes any stodginess. And the disc's novelty number, "Don't Mow Your Lawn," despite being too long, is the perfect call to revolution for the suburban '90s. Not your usual big-band fare.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended), four stars (excellent).

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