Note: This 2 CD set is a re-release compilation of two LPs, Rag-Ma-Tazz (1974) and Unexplored Territory (1977). I owned the latter as an LP.
These old recordings were never released on CD until 2008. The first CD (Rag-Ma-Tazz) is mostly transcriptions of Scott Joplin tunes. The arrangements are well done and the playing, of course, is impeccable. Since the group at that time was relatively unknown and was probably still paying for their own studio time, these seem to be live performances. No overdubs or splicing that I can hear. I like that.
The second disc (Unexplored Territory) is an interesting pairing for the ragtime disc because it has nothing in common with Rag-Ma-Tazz except for the brass players. This disc grouped the brass quintet with a typical rhythm section (bass, drums, guitar, piano) and tries to make them work. Sometimes this instrumentation is successful, sometimes not.
Tracks, CD 1: The best on this disc are Entertainer Rag, The Favourite, Rosebud Ragtime March, and Lassus Trombone. You can skip the originals Days Before Yesterday and Canadian Brass Rag which pale compared to Joplin.
Tracks, CD 2: A lot of this music reminds me of the pop crossover stuff that Maynard Ferguson was doing in the '70s (without the stratospheric trumpet work). The crossover stuff, like The Joust and En Sueño, is pure '70s cheese. I'm digging the Fender Rhodes, baby. There are some attempts at transcribing classical works for a pop group including Satie's First Gynopedie, Bach's Magnificat in D minor, and Handel's Royal Firework Music. I'll go ahead and include the traditional Amazing Grace with these. These tracks are best left alone. While the playing is fantastic, these transcriptions just make you want to listen to the original works because those are so much better. My main beef with the Canadian Brass throughout the years has been their willingness to play awful arrangements. The disc isn't a total loser, however. The highlight of this disc (and the reason I bought it) is the exceptional arrangement of Just A Closer Walk With Thee which appears in a fantastic Bourbon Street Medley along with Tin Roof Blues and Muskrat Ramble. I wish the whole disc was like this medley. I've tried to stay away from using a phrase like "this territory was better left unexplored" but that stuff writes itself.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I had heard the group live while I was in high school and, as a trumpet player, I was certainly aware of who they were, but I did not have any Canadian Brass recordings until a girlfriend gave me Unexplored Territory as a Christmas gift in 1984. (Side note: she also gave me a copy of As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls.) Interesting choices for sure, but I was young and in love and wanted to enjoy what she enjoyed. To be honest, I only listened to the LP once or twice before giving up on it, but the group's arrangement of Just A Closer Walk With Thee stayed with me. Bored one night around 2008, I sought out a CD copy of the LP and this is what I found. This is one of those discs I buy for nostalgia's sake, listen to it once and put it away for a few years until another wave of nostalgia washes over me.
Previously revisited for the blog:
All You Need is Love (1998)