July 2007

Maynard Ferguson - M.F. 3 and M.F. Horn 4 & 5 – Live at Jimmy’s
Vocalion 2CDSML 8429
Format: CD
Originally released: 1973 and 1974
Reissue released: 2006

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Maynard Ferguson’s stratospheric trumpet playing was not to everyone’s taste, but he often had crack bands, and his recordings featured smart arrangements by talented musicians. This UK release pairs two recordings, M.F. Horn (1973) and M.F. Horn 4 & 5 (1974, originally released in the US as a two-LP set). Both discs catch Ferguson’s band just before it ventured into the more commercial, less musically satisfying recordings that would gain the leader a larger audience during the fusion era. Ferguson was always willing to try something new, usually to challenge himself rather than to make a quick buck, so it isn’t surprising that M.F. Horn 3 and M.F. Horn 4 & 5 show some rock influence, especially from drummer Randy Jones. Ferguson was able to incorporate those sounds into his music while leading what was unquestionably a jazz big band.

The presence of the electric piano and bass guitar sometimes place this music firmly in its time, yet it sounds far less dated than most '70s fusion. Ferguson keeps the histrionics to a minimum, often playing well-developed, thoughtful solos. He gives generous solo time to other band members, including trombonist Geoff Wright (on MFH3), pianist Pete Jackson, and baritone sax player Bruce Johnstone. The ensemble playing is consistently impressive on these sides, especially on the live MFH 4 & 5.

Michael J. Dutton’s sparkling remastering lets you hear each section of the band clearly and highlights its drama and power. Even those who don’t normally like Maynard Ferguson may be surprised at how enjoyable these two recordings are.