Maynard Ferguson has been justifiably well-known for his high-note trumpet playing for nearly four decades. But the latter part of his career has been equally significant for his ability to assemble impressive- sounding big bands.
The group he brought to the Strand in Redondo Beach on Sunday night may have been a bit smaller than some he has had over the years, but it swung as hard as any. Dubbed the Big Bop Nouveau Band, the nine-piece ensemble consisted of two saxophone players, two trumpeters, a trombonist and three rhythm--with Ferguson's piercing horn occasionally joining the brass section.
Although he took advantage of a few opportunities to display his still-spectacular high note technique, Ferguson's solo spots were brief and to the point. For the most part, his role was that of musical paterfamilias, corraling and urging on his exuberant young crew.
Ferguson wisely gave substantial upfront space to trumpeter Walter White, whose playing on "In a Mellow Tone" and "The Fox Hunt" (a classic two trumpet battle with Ferguson) suggested the emergence of a major league talent. Tenor saxophonist Matt Wallace and baritone saxophonist Glenn Coster also performed with strongly original points of view.
Above all, however, the ensemble was the star of the evening. The arrangements--especially those written for this instrumentation--were energetic and contemporary. Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band may not please the more hidebound purists, but it's got the kind of crossover appeal to make it one of the best bets for broad jazz popularity in the '90s.