Various Artists | Big Band of Brothers-A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band | (New West)
4 out of 5 stars
The concept expressed by this album’s title is provocative as much as it is unusual. Take some of the Allman Brothers Band’s bluesiest material and rearrange it for a big band. Still, the result could easily have devolved into a schlocky Vegas-styled cash in.
Thankfully, that’s far from the case.
Rather eight Brothers’ songs (and a few covers associated with them) are run through a brass heavy, 22-member group that somewhat amazingly never deteriorates into cliché. On the contrary, these intricately, often elaborately arranged charts bring a fresh approach to the ABB’s work. After hearing the jazz slant on tunes such as “Dreams” and “Hot ‘Lanta,” you’ll wonder why someone didn’t think of this before.
While the majority of the hour long disc is instrumental, the producers tap Ruthie Foster (“It’s Not My Cross to Bear”/”Don’t Keep Me Wondering”), and Marc Broussard (“Whipping Post”/”Statesboro Blues”) to add soulful vocals. Two solid guitarists also contribute licks inspired by, but not copying, the Brothers’ Dickie Betts and Duane Allman (there are notably no post Duane selections). But when ex-Brother Jack Pearson adds greasy slide to “Stand Back,” you wish he would have stuck around for a few more tracks.
Still, this is primarily a horn showcase (six saxes, four trumpets, four trombones) who replace the Brothers’ twin guitar lines (like on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”) with solos, injecting jazz blasts to emphasize melody and chord changes. A full rhythm section featuring bass, keyboards and percussion (producer Mark Lanter is credited with drums throughout) adds a tougher approach. The combination of both as on the closing twelve minute “Les Brers in A Minor” creates a fascinating and dynamic meeting of blues, rock, and of course jazz.
Occasionally the brass arrangements get a bit too razzle-dazzle or worse, marching band inspired, but never enough to sink the overall concept. Even “Whipping Post” and “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” which wouldn’t seem to coalesce with the concept, find footing as blues-rock gems with newfound jazz accents.
The choices are relatively safe, sticking to just the first four Brothers’ albums. Perhaps if this is as commercially successful as it is artistically challenging, a follow-up volume can dig further into the group’s rich catalog to uncover, and revise, more obscure material.