Count Basie Orchestra: Swinging, Singing, Playing
Swinging, Singing, Playing
Although over a quarter-century has elapsed since the passing of Count Basie in 1984, the bandleader and pianist's legacy has proved one of the most durable from the big band era, and the Basie band's Swinging, Singing, Playing maintains the Basie tradition and carries it triumphantly into the new millennium. Dennis Wilson (not to be confused with his late Beach Boys namesake), who served in the Basie trombone section from 1977-87, first under Basie himself, then under Thad Jones and Frank Foster, returns to conduct the current ensemble in eleven of his own Basie-styled charts, including four original compositions. (Wilson is now Professor of Music at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor).
"Giant Blues Flag Waver" is Wilson's compositional opening salvo, in which the traditional Basie groove joins forces with John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," with tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence, drummer Marion Felder and guest pianist Geri Allen in the solo spotlight. Another guest, bassist Rufus Reid, captures solo honors on "Naiomi's Blues," which Wilson named for his daughter. Wilson says that he composed "Dark Morning" on the very day of Basie's death. It has remained unrecorded until here, where it receives a midnight-blue velvet treatment reminiscent of Neal Hefti's "Li'l Darlin'" and Henry Mancini's "Dreamsville." It's highlighted by Michael Williams' bucket-muted trumpet saluting Freddie Hubbard.
The 87-year-old scat master Jon Hendricks teams with the thirtysomething British show business prodigy Jamie Cullum at the piano on the Basie-meets-James Brown (plus a hint of Joe Zawinul's "Birdland") "Blues On Mack Avenue," which also features Wilson in a plunger-muted solo saluting the late Basie trombonist Al Grey, in addition to an open statement by Wilson's Basie predecessor Curtis Fuller. (The album closes with the iconic Basie piano tag, on which Cullum maintains the final chord in a nod to The Beatles' "A Day In the Life," accompanied by Hendricks' laughter).
Flutist Frank Wess, a Basie veteran of nearly three decades (he introduced the flute into the Basie repertoire while doubling on alto and tenor), rejoins the band for Quincy Jones's "Jessica's Day," nearly 50 years after he first recorded the tune with Basie. Wilson has expanded Wess' flute lead on the original recording, Basie One More Time (Roulette, 1960), into a fully-realized solo feature, and the octogenarian Wess succeeds brilliantly.
In 1985, the Basie ensemble under Thad Jones appeared on The Manhattan Transfer's Grammy-winning Vocalese album (Atlantic, since reissued on Rhino), and one of the vocal quartet's founding members, Janis Siegel, reunites with the band in tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, both of whom enjoyed long associations with Basie. Andre Previn's late-1950s paean to hipness "Like Young" is firmly in "First Lady Of Song" vein, while "Close Your Eyes" and "I Have Waited So Long," composed by Vaughan herself and featuring just the sax section led by the superb Marshall McDonald, echo "The Divine One," as Vaughan was nicknamed. Thad's older brother, the nonagenarian Hank Jones, provides outstanding piano accompaniment to all of Siegel's vocals.
The album's sole liability is vocalist Nnenna Freelon on "Too Close for Comfort" and Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays." She sings flat on the latter and her attempts at scat do not match those of either Siegel or Hendricks elsewhere on the CD ("Yesterdays" is redeemed by the electrifying drumming of Basie veteran Butch Miles. Cullum's vocal contribution is the Oscar Levant/Stanley Adams standard "Blame It On My Youth," which Wilson indicates as a salute to Tony Bennett, whose A Swingin' Christmas (Sony/Columbia, 2008), featuring the Basie band, was recorded just a few months earlier. On all other "Counts," however, Swinging, Singing, and Playing is an absolute winner.
Tracks: Too Close for Comfort; Giant Blues Flag Waver; Like Young; Jessica's Day; Blame It On My Youth; Close Your Eyes; Naiomi's Blues; Yesterdays; I Have Waited So Long; Dark Morning; Blues On Mack Avenue.
Personnel: Dennis Wilson: conductor, composer, arranger, trombone; Bill Hughes: leader, bass trombone; Marshall McDonald: lead alto sax; Grant Langford: alto sax; Doug Lawrence: tenor sax; Doug Miller: tenor sax; John Williams: baritone sax; William "Scotty" Barnhart: trumpet; Michael Williams: trumpet; Kris Johnson: trumpet; James Zollar: trumpet; Dave Keim: lead trombone; Clarence Bank: trombone; Alvin Walker: trombone; Barry Cooper: bass trombone; Tony Suggs: piano; Will Matthews: guitar; James Leary: bass; Marion Felder: drums. Guest Artists: Nnenna Freelon: vocals; Janis Siegel: vocals; Jon Hendricks: vocals; Jamie Cullum: vocals, piano; Geri Allen: piano; Hank Jones: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Butch Miles: drums; Frank Wess: flute; Curtis Fuller: trombone.