The secret of trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's success in the marketplace is his flair for the spectacular in these "Star Wars" times and his practice of seeking out young players who can very nearly do the space walk with him. his failure as an artist in recent years has been his lowest-common-denominator cynicism.
Saturday night in the Grand Ballroon of the University of Maryland's student union building the Canadian-born Ferguson wowed an audience of admirers with the sort of glitter, flash and ostentation that is his current product. Four trumpets in upper-register unison dropped a split second behind each other like TIE fighters peeling of the formation. Imperial Walker bass-drum thuds marched in step with "War of the Worlds" synthesizer. The leader lifted horn to lips and sent one across the galaxies. Compositions by Sonny Rollins and Joe Zawinal and an original, "A Hit in the Head," blazed across the skyscape.
Only on "Everybody Loves the Blues" did individuality and feeling come to the fore. With Dave Ramsay tickling the ivories of a grand piano, trombonists Steve Weist and Chris Braymen got down and dirty and Ferguson came down out of the Clouds and showed, on Fluegelhorn, that he can get mean and bad. Other notable soloists were Denis Diblasio on baritone saxophone and Nelson Hill on alto.
The Ferguson band will be at the Harlequin on Monday, Oct. 19.