Three-time Grammy Award winner Don Sebesky's Giant Box (1973) was a 1974 Grammy nominee in two categories Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band and Best Instrumental Arrangement (for the album's opening track "Firebird/Birds of Fire"). This ambitious project, originally a two-LP box set, showcases a who's-who of CTI greats Airto, George Benson, Billy Cobham, Paul Desmond, Joe Farrell, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Hubert Laws and Grover Washington, Jr.
CTI records was a huge family in the 70's, frequently bringing mainstays such as Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Hubert Laws, George Benson, and Milt Jackson together into the studio for jammin'. Don Sebesky, whose eclectic career has ranged from the jazz and funk of the 70's to arranging for up-and-coming R&B singers of recent years, was a behind-the-scenes man for CTI, similar to Sammy Nestico's role with the Count Basie band. In 1973, Sebesky finally got his own record session and a chance to bring all of his musical minions together to make some magic happen.
There are lots of sounds contained in this funky big band album, from the wah-wah effects of keyboards and guitar to the blazing trumpet lines of Freddie Hubbard, and jam this band could do. The first track starts out with bass riffs and keyboard effects, not letting up. The fourth track, Psalm 150, is probably the best known track from this album. It boasts rich tapestries of harmony and an extremely breakneck tempo - probably 250. This track is featured on many "best of big band" compilations, and it's worth the price of the entire CD to hear Freddie Hubbard's solo. Hubbard was the star of CTI, and a cameo was enough to make any album worth listening to. He blows heavy, incinerating lines, not loosening the tempo or rhythmic accuracy by any means.
The album boasts slower numbers as well - listen to the mysticism of "Song to a Seagull." The first half of the song is glittering gold - a vocal feature that boasts just the right amount of mellifluousness before reaching mawkish territory. Of course, the second half of the track goes back to the jammin' and funk - but it's the 70's, so what do you expect? An alto sax ballad feature is also featured, with "Free as a Bird." The pedal keyboard and flutes in the background persist throughout the entire track, preventing the ballad from becoming boring or uninteresting.
The album's strongest track is the finisher, Semi-Tough. It's almost experimental at the beginning, clashing brass against low strings in a way that would interest Gustav Holst. The song then bursts into a cacophony of string riffs against brass grooves, before Hubbard steps into the limelight to amaze the listener with endless fireworks and tricks. Such power, such range! The grooves of this track will strike awe in most hardhearted of listeners.
Well, the 70's are long gone - but you can always relive the decade's eclectic blend of funk, grooves, abstract jazz harmonies, and floating moods through albums like Giant Box. It is certified GROOVY, and you won't be disappointed in the plethora of soul contained within.