Back on Track
Michigan State University Jazz Band Back on Track LP (MSU, 1981)
In the world of record hunting nothing is as frustrating as trying to find good school band records. Doesn't matter if the bands are marching, orchestras, or jazz bands, chances are the record you plop down a dollar for is gonna suck. The hits are so few that you find yourself getting excited over mediocre versions of "Sunshine Superman" and that just isn't right. When you do find a good one, it is a record you hold onto, even though you have a hundred (or a thousand) records that are infinitely better. This Michigan State University Jazz Band album is one of the better school band records I've come across.
As with many a school band, the MSU Jazz Band of 1981 has won several awards at various college jazz festivals. Probably because of the success they (or their band director) decided to lay down some of their best songs. They go into a studio, or, as often is the case, have someone in the school's audio engineering department record them. If the record cover artwork isn't picked out of some stock book a pressing plant hands the music department secretary, than the task gets handed to a graphic arts instructor, who then pawns it off on the star student, who comes up with something deep. A car racing down the grooves of a record isn't exactly profound, so my money is that the jacket came out of a stock book.
After the best tracks are chosen and sleeve designed finalized, off the music and art goes to the pressing plant and after the miracle of science is inflicted upon sound and plastic, a stack of records is delivered to the music department. The students get a cut, hand them out to friends, relatives, and lovers. The friends say they listened to it, when they didn't. The lovers listen to it once, usually in the presence of their musician squeeze...then they file it away. Mom and dad listen to it often and every time kid musician visits home. Eventually all copies wind up in thrift stores and in charity rummage sales, where some rabid vinyl freak picks it up with a not quite so Obama sized flicker of hope that this one is good.
I got my copy of "Back on Track" at a public radio record sale a couple years ago, threw it in a box and there it sat until last weekend when I had enough of the piles of records crowding me and decided to do a purge. Like all, vinyl obsessives, I must make sure I am not getting rid of a gem, so those unlistened to get a quick needle drop before they are sent of to where records go to die (or sold to some sucker on ebay). I hit the grooves of MSU 1981's pride & joy and found well played but pedestrian music director penned bebop and jazz band standards. Among the blah were two standouts - both of them raw and funky - "Tholian Web" and "No Jive".
"Tholian Web" starts off funky enough, a though somewhat stiff drum beat and a blistering trombone section heads the song. There is a striped down drums & horn bit, which then cruises into more group play, guitar comes in and all is cool. But where this thing really takes off is when tenor sax man Don Fabian (now of The Meadow School of Arts at Southern Methodist University). Fabian blazes in like some junior Maceo Parker. It is a very nice solo. The song winds down and then blasts to an end. "No Jive" starts with the odd drummer and Fabian nearly rephrasing his Tholian solo and one it goes.
As stated above, those who are hooked on the hunt for good school band records have warped perspectives regarding what is good and what is really, for reals good. Hopefully this is the later.
I don't imagine you have ever had the opportunity to check out any of the Drum Corp International shows during the summer. Not only do they play 10 times as good as this, they do it running backwards, amongst other things.
These are sooooooooo good! Whew...
Thanks for such a great website and all your hard work,