Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Maynard Ferguson - Chameleon (1974)/Conquistador (1977)/Hot (1979)

UK Import

Three albums on 2 CDs from the master of the stratospheric trumpet. Thanks, BGO. Almost 40 years ago, I discovered Ferguson while in high school through a greatest hits cassette. We (me and my fellow trumpeters) loved Maynard in high school, but my college trumpet-playing friends looked down on him. I continued to listen to him anyway and then Maynard came to our college campus in 1986 and all of a sudden these same jazz snobs were on the Maynard bandwagon. Shameless. Here's a photo taken at that show. Maynard is the one with the towel and white pants after Labor Day.

Excellent remastering job on these plus a fantastic liner note booklet that includes full credits as well as a nice essay by Charles Waring, jazz columnist for Record Collector and contributor to MOJO and Wax Poetics. Well done.

8 tracks, 41 minutes

My on-again-off-again high school girlfriend had this on vinyl and I dubbed the good stuff to a cassette. Mostly covers, this thing's hit or miss, but I literally wore out that cassette.

Cash Box, August 31, 1974, p. 22

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
Peak on Billboard's Jazz LPs chart: #13

Tracks: Choice cuts are the title track (by Herbie Hancock), Gospel John (an original by Jeff Steinberg), a high energy cover of McCartney's Jet and, my pick for top track: La Fiesta (by Chick Corea). Avoid Maynard's take on The Way We Were and his vocals on I Can't Get Started. Speaking of not getting started: the arrangement of Stevie Wonder's Living For The City. The title track, which came out within a year of Hancock's original, is now a jazz/funk standard and remains popular with high school marching band and jazz bands.

6 tracks, 36 minutes

Famous for its lead track, Gonna Fly Now, which became Ferguson's biggest hit and a signature tune for the pop/disco/Columbia Records phase of his career. Not surprisingly, this is also Maynard's all-time top selling album.

Cash Box, March 19, 1977, p. 14
According to the liner notes, Gonna Fly Now was a last second addition at the recommendation of a record executive that had just seen the first Rocky movie. Hey! A record exec got something right! But he wasn't the only one: the tune is unique in that it had recordings by 4 different artists charting at the same time: Ferguson's peaked at #28, Bill Conti's original which was #1 for one week, while Rhythm Heritage and Current both peaked at #94.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #22
Peak on Billboard's Jazz LPs chart: #1
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #45
Peak on Cash Box Top 40 Jazz Albums: #5

Tracks: My picks are Gonna Fly Now (natch), Mister Mellow with a tasty extended solo from George Benson, and Soar Like an Eagle which is a Bob James tune and in case you couldn't tell that from the very first measure, James contributes a nice electric piano solo. And even though the Theme From Star Trek is all cheese, I can't help but love it probably because it was on the aforementioned greatest hits cassette I bought in high school. People buying the album because they liked the Rocky theme were probably disappointed by the title track and the throwaway experiment, The Fly.

HOT (1979)
7 tracks, 42 minutes

Note: this release was originally purchased as a LP (twice), later replaced by this CD set.

This album contains Maynard's second (of only two) pop chart appearance; an attempt to cash in on the movie sequel, Rocky II.

If you believe that label (and I have no reason not to), the album was originally slated to be titled Blow Your Own Horn.

Of the album, in a one star review/pan, Allmusic writes:
"Hot could be the absolute worst of trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's '70s recordings. It's not just that it contains more over the top versions of theme songs -- "Rocky II Disco" anyone? -- and generally vomitive dancefloor-ready production, but more to the point, 'ol MF just doesn't sound good.
It's hard to argue any of that, but when the album brings back memories of high school, none of that matters. At least Cash Box tried to put a good spin on things:

Cash Box, August 4, 1979, p. 17

To tell the truth, I never woulda picked up this LP (heck, I think I had it special ordered!), if I hadn't happened across the following sheet music in 1979 or 1980 at the local music shop (click images to enlarge):

So I had the sheet music and wanted to hear what it sounded like, so I got the album.Yes, I still have the sheet music but I don't think the value has appreciated much.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #188
Peak on Billboard's Jazz LPs chart: #14
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #175
Peak on Cash Box Top 40 Jazz Albums: #9

Tracks: There's not much to recommend here, to be honest, not even the aforementioned Rocky II Disco. I listen for purposes of nostalgia. The rehash of Gospel John (from the Chameleon album above) is titled Gabriel and is possibly the only instrumental disco funk gospel tune I've ever heard so there's that. Even though it's silly disco filler, my favorite track might be Topa-Topa Woman.

And what's Theme From Star Trek doing on here? Wasn't it also on Conquistador? Yes, it's the same recording, only shorter. The liner notes characterize the inclusion of the Star Trek theme as "a blatant attempt to capitalise on the release of the first Star Trek movie."

Previously revisited for the blog:
Master of the Stratosphere (1997)
Hollywood (1982) 
The Best Of Maynard Ferguson (1980)

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