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Album Review

In 1939 Charlie Barnet made some of the best records of his entire career. Inspired by the example of Duke Ellington, he developed his orchestra into a formidable swing machine that sometimes seemed more closely connected to the Afro-American tradition than most of the other white big bands on the scene at that time. This volume in the Barnet chronology contains eight tracks with vocals by Judy Ellington (no relation to Duke!) and five by an insufferable droopy-voiced nerd by the name of Larry Taylor. Often sounding sweet and harmless, Judy did some of her best singing with Barnet in 1939. "Strange Enchantment" has a film noir intro and Barnet's alto sax sounds deliberately mysterious. "The All-Night Record Man" appears to be a sequel to "Milkman's Matinee," a nocturnal program on WNEW hosted by Stan Shaw. But the artistically substantial recordings are the 11 instrumentals, beginning with possibly the hippest version of Rudolf Friml's "Only a Rose" ever waxed by a jazz band. Listeners get a taste of Barnet's soprano sax during Ellington's "Echoes of Harlem," and his alto bubbles over as he navigates the devilish changes of "Scotch and Soda." These tracks were all recorded on April 5, 1939, a session noteworthy for expressive trumpeting by Bob Burnet, Johnny Mendell, and guest artist Charlie Shavers. Barnet also used his soprano sax on "Miss Annabelle Lee," a tune traceable back to the 1925 repertoire of the California Ramblers, the band whose name he borrowed the second time he broke his Victor contract to record for the Variety label in May of 1937 [see Classics 1159 — Charlie Barnet 1936-1937]. "Lazy Bug," a collaborative opus by Barnet and Juan Tizol, has the ethereal feel of an Ellington dream. Barnet's flair for wild musical ideas manifests itself in the eccentric progressions of his "Midweek Function." Barnet's approach to "I Never Knew" — Ted Fiorito's best jazz tune — was to jump and swing like mad. On July 17, 1939, Barnet's band recorded Ray Noble's "Cherokee." This one record would help to establish the Charlie Barnet Orchestra's popularity for years to come. Legend has it Billy May came up with the famous arrangement en route to the studio. This excellent disc culminates with a steaming stomp entitled "The Last Jump (A Jump to End All Jumps)."

1939, Charlie Barnet & His Orchestra
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