“Artistry in Rhythm” Album Review

Artistry in Rhythm

Album: Artistry in Rhythm

Artist: Stan Kenton

Year: 1946

Genre: Big Band

Grade: B+

Pianist/bandleader Stan Kenton formed his first jazz orchestra in 1940. Performing a style of energetic and highly complex big band music, the collection became one of the most successful West Coast ballroom acts of the decade. But one listen to Kenton’s biggest hit, “Artistry in Rhythm,” will tell you that his ultimate goal was to transcend jazz music altogether.

Unfortunately, Kenton’s 1946 debut LP doesn’t feature the great song it’s named after. Nevertheless, Artistry in Rhythm (the album) is still an essential snapshot of his early sound. The music of Artistry is gargantuan and at times overwhelming — a 15-to-20-piece orchestra will usually do that.

The music of Artistry is also a bit cold and distant, which will become a common Kenton complaint. His classical influences and complex song structures are a far cry from his Swing Era contemporaries, and his music as a whole is somewhat solipsistic. For better or worse, Kenton’s a showoff who aims to impress rather than emote.

Of course, one thing you can never complain about when it comes to Kenton is the high-level musicianship. Every orchestra member (including future stars Art Pepper and Maynard Ferguson) is a virtuoso, and songs like “Artistry in Bolero” and “Artistry in Percussion” are shining examples of the elaborate arrangements. Meanwhile, the June Christy showcases are always highlights.

Artistry in Rhythm is a good album, don’t get me wrong. The performances are top-notch, and the music is highly advanced. However, Artistry is at odds with jazz’s natural progression. Instead of following the lineage of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins, Kenton charts his own alternative history of Paul Whiteman, Tommy Dorsey and Lennie Tristano. Although Kenton was trying to move jazz forward, the concurrent innovations of bebop showed his philosophies to be a little backward.

“Artistry in Rhythm” Album Review

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