Maynard Ferguson lets loose a high-energy ensemble

Special to The Times

Maynard Ferguson made his reputation as a trumpeter with a knack for playing notes high enough to answer the question of who let the dogs out. Now approaching 75, he still can generate sounds approaching the level of dog whistle penetration.

But Ferguson has always had other abilities as well: his capacity to form and lead fine large jazz ensembles, his adeptness as a better-than-average jazz improviser, his amiable stage presence.

All of these aptitudes were on full display at the Conga Room on Wednesday in a high-voltage performance by Ferguson and his Big Bop Nouveau Band, a catchy label for the medium-sized ensemble that he has led in recent years.

This edition's nine-piece instrumentation comes close to simulating the powerhouse sound of a full 16- or 17-piece big band.

The group's collective energy was applied to a program that started with "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and moved through "Ain't No Sunshine," "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Milestones" into a medley of Ferguson's better known efforts (including the theme from "Rocky").

Diverse as that may sound, the differences were largely offset by arrangements that pulled each within the brassy orbit of the Ferguson style.

Although his brief solo segments were impressive, Ferguson allocated most of the improvisational space to his fine young players, especially saxophonists Mike Dubaniewicz and Xavier Perez, trombonist Keith Oshiro, pianist Harry Miller and drummer Joel Fountain.

Surprisingly, but perhaps understandably, given the set's length, the super stratospheric notes in the closing "Rocky" and "MacArthur Park" were delivered not by Ferguson but by gifted lead trumpeter Patrick Hession.

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