1956: A Stan Kenton Resurgence

In 1956, the prolific bandleader released two critically and commercially popular LPs, Kenton in Hi-Fi and Cuban Fire, proving that he was much more than an avant-garde flash-in-the-pan.


Kenton in Hi-Fi

Artist: Stan Kenton

Genre: Big Band

Grade: A-

Kenton in Hi-Fi is beautifully arranged and beautifully produced. Every instrument — every blast and blare — is illuminated in finest detail, while the dynamics and interplay between the individual musicians had never been tighter.

Is this Kenton’s best album? I wouldn’t say so; that honor probably belongs to one of his earliest LPs. Nevertheless, Kenton in Hi-Fi is probably the clearest expression of his musical talent. And that’s probably more important to him anyways.


Cuban Fire!

Artist: Stan Kenton

Genre: Big Band

Grade: B+

Stan Kenton reignited his career with the Latin-influenced Cuban Fire, of which only the title track lives up to everything the name entails. The rest of the LP — as usual with Kenton — is serious and excessive, yet undoubtedly the work of a consummate professional. Cuban Fire! does everything Kenton wants it to do — mixing his ebullient big-band virtuosity with Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Even though Kenton was no longer an avant-vanguard — and even though the exoticism is mainly limited to the percussion — Cuban Fire! deserves the popularity it received. It was a necessary reset from one of the decade’s most influential composers.

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