Artist: Stan Kenton
Genre: Big Band
The album cover for Stan Kenton’s Encores shows a surreal scene of disembodied clapping hands. They are wooden and stand upright, the only features dotting the horizon in a barren landscape lacking perspective. Smaller, somewhere in the center, stands Kenton in a Christ-like pose, conducting an imaginary orchestra.
It’s a perfect allegory for an album full of strange unconventional modernistic sounds. Unfortunately, the artwork is more interesting than the music.
Encores captures the Stan Kenton Orchestra in transition. Even though the album was released in 1949, the music was recorded sometime between the performances on Artistry in Rhythm and A Presentation of Progressive Jazz. The result somewhat lacks cohesion, and the songs vary from bombastic big band to Latin-influenced Third Stream without ever settling into a real rhythm.
Despite Kenton’s pioneering techniques (i.e., dissonance and soft-LOUD dynamics), Encores is unfortunately unmemorable. It’s heavy on innovation but empty of emotion. Maybe that’s why Kenton stands alone on the album cover.
But let’s not be too hard on the album — the performances of the Stan Kenton Orchestra always deserve praise. Band members like Ray Wetzel (trumpet), George Weidler (alto saxophone) and Jack Costanzo (bongos) deliver unwavering virtuoso performances. And let’s not forget the ever-consistent June Christy, who sings a captivating lead vocal on two of the LP’s original six songs.
If I were a disembodied pair of hands, I’d be clapping too.