Count Basie and His Orchestra
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Here's a crash course in the flashy post-WWII big band sound of Count Basie's Orchestra. This was a much different act from the Basie band of 1944-45. The entire presentation had changed considerably in just a couple of years. Arrangers had a lot to do with such rapid transformation, along with creative young players like J.J. Johnson, Paul Gonsalves and Illinois Jacquet. Basie himself was maturing already into that famously glib, tinkling pianist who could and did occasionally play his ass off. A number of stylistic modes are clearly at work during the summer of 1946. Two sentimental pop vocals, one lightweight novelty tune and a solid Jimmy Rushing blues are interspersed with several exciting instrumentals. Buster Harding cooked up a few heavy-handed boogies, Tadd Dameron contributed the stimulating, modern composition "Stay On It," and Harry "Sweets" Edison composed and arranged "Mutton Leg," a sizzling feature for Illinois Jacquet. This would be the saxophonist's last extroverted studio recording with this band, and the eight selections from 1946 were the last of Basie's mid-'40s Columbia sides. Signing up with Victor for the next three years, Basie continued to move in step with rapidly evolving developments in pop, bebop and rhythm and blues. The Victor sides have not been reissued very often, and have proved much more difficult to obtain than Basie's earlier recordings from the Columbia and Decca catalogs. The people in charge of the Classics chronological series are to be commended for making these historical recordings available. The Victor material is markedly varied, revealing an orchestra searching for its next stylistic identity. "Open the Door, Richard" is one of the coolest versions of this silly piece of neo-vaudeville ever recorded, mainly because of Harry "Sweets" Edison's very hip, high-voiced spoken delivery. "One O'Clock Boogie" is recognizable Basie, but two lush ballads, arranged by Hugo Winterhalter, of all people, are atypical for this band. "Futile Frustration," though nominally co-composed by Basie, is a jaggedly futuristic Raymond Scott-styled experiment by Jimmy Mundy. Two live V-Disc jams, each exceeding the four-minute mark, feature Basie and rhythm with a snappy front line of Roy Eldridge and Illinois Jacquet. Art Ford, square peg in a round universe, introduces "Lady Be Good." "Jammin' on a V-Disc," which has a line that sounds uncannily like Sun Ra's "Space is the Place," runs at a brisk clip with wonderful solos from both of the horns. Illinois bites the reed to make his sax squeal and everybody rocks. Buddy Rich is in his element here, as the assignment calls for furious drumming. This segment of the chronology ends with three excellent instrumentals including smart remakes of "St. Louis Boogie" and "Swingin' the Blues." The pianist switches over to Hammond organ in the middle of "Basie's Basement," an authentically low-down blues graced with echoes of Fats Waller's personality. The rest of the fine music recorded by Basie and his men during the month of May 1947 appears at the beginning of the next volume of the complete recordings of Count Basie in chronological order.