Count Basie: Swiss Radio Days, Vol. 20: Mustermesse Basel 1956, Pt. 2; On My Way & Shoutin' Again! & Swinging, Singing, Playing
Count Basie Orchestra
Count Basie Orchestra
If the rhythm section of Count Basie's Old Testament big band of the '30s-40s is remembered as the "All-American Rhythm Section," then the New Testament big band of the later '50s-60s deserves the appellation All-American big band. As sleek, propulsive and muscularly assertive as the behemoths that came out of Detroit in the era, the Basie band reflected the optimism of post-WWII America. And just as designers were as important to the products of Detroit as engineers and mechanics, arrangers were as instrumental in the success of the Basie band as the musicians. That was made abundantly clear on the first installment of Basel 1956, an instrumental album, featuring the work of such arrangers as Neal Hefti and Frank Foster, that showcased the band's high-powered and sophisticated charts. Hefti is also the sole composer/arranger featured on the newly reissued On My Way & Shoutin' Again!
But the band of 1956 also boasted a roster of star-caliber soloists, none more stellar and popular than vocalist and, in the Count's words, "number one son," Joe Williams. Basel 1956, Pt. 2, features Williams on 6 of the 11 tracks. Sometimes reductively remembered as a blues singer, Williams was much more. His approach to the blues was urbane as well as urban, sophisticated rather than raw, as is evident here in a celebratory approach to his signature Basie hits "Every Day," "Alright, Okay, You Win" and "The Comeback." He also unfurls his rich baritone on the ballad "Teach Me Tonight," rips into the old blues "Roll'em Pete" with gusto and gets sexily playful on "Smack Dab in the Middle." The CD also includes two rousing tenor sax battles between Franks Foster and Wess and an extended Sonny Payne drum solo feature.
On My Way & Shoutin' Again! was a studio affair, recorded in late 1962, demonstrating both Hefti's command of the New Testament vernacular and creativity in expanding that sound with inventive voicings and ensemble combinations. As the title promises, there are typical Basie blues shouts, introductory piano with that classic Freddie Green strumming guitar-led rhythm section, giving way to brash brass explosions, but there are also sly, sprightly tunesthe unison flutes and TV-theme bounce of "Skippin' with Skitch," the jaunty "Ducky Bumps"in a league with, but never popularized like Hefti's "Cute." In fact, none of the tracks here ever became staples in the Basie book, so this CD is a surprising and welcome artifact of the early New Testament band. The crowning gem is the slow blues "The Long Night," with flute leads over Ellingtonian voicings (trombones and low saxophones) moving into a spectacular showcase for Thad Jones' muted, open and a capella trumpet.
The Count Basie Orchestra franchise has gone through some rough patches over the quarter century since the Count's passing, but Swinging, Singing, Playing is a worthy addition to the Basie legacy. A project of former Basie trombonist and album conductor Dennis Wilson, who arranged and/or composed 10 of the 11 tracks, and Mack Avenue producer Al Pryor, the CD is rampant with guest artists (many former Basie-ites), usually used to maximum effect: i.e., Geri Allen's revved up, futuristic version of Basie piano on "Giant Blues Flag Waver"; Hank Jones' takes on that piano tradition on a trio of tracks and drummer Butch Miles' deft brush work complementing that signature Basie sax sound. Fans of Quincy Jones' early LP This Is How I Feel About Jazz! will appreciate the revival here of the fetching "Jessica's Day" with Frank Wess guesting on flute. And Wilson's charts and the band bring out the best in vocalists who in other settings have sounded too studied, especially Janis Siegel, outstanding on three tracks with very different moods, but also Nnenna Freelon and Jamie Cullum.
Tracks and Personnel
Swiss Radio Days, Vol. 20: Mustermesse Basel 1956, Pt. 2
Tracks: Dinner with friends; How high the moon; Playmouth rock; Every day; Alright okay, you win; Teach me tonight; Roll'em Pete; Smack dab in the middle; The comeback; One o'clock jump; Jumpin' at the woodside.
Personnel: Count Basie: piano; Wendell Culley, Reunald Jones Sr., Thad Jones, Joe Newman: trumpets; Henry Coker, Bill Hughes, Benny Powell: trombones; Marshal Royal, Bill Graham, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Charlie Fowlkes: reeds; Freddie Green: guitar; Eddie Jones: bass; Sonny Payne: drums; Joe Williams: vocals, tracks 4-9.
On My Way & Shoutin' Again!
Tracks: I'm Shoutin' Again; Ducky Bumps; The Long Night; Jump for Johnny; Ain't That Right; Together Again; Shanghaied; Skippin' With Skitch; Eee Dee; Rose Bud.
Personnel: Count Basie: piano; Frank Wess: sax; Ernie Royal: trumpet; Thad Jones: trumpet; Freddie Green: guitar; Benny Powell: trombone; Frank Foster: saxophone; Marshall Royal: flute Eric Dixon: flute; Henry Coker: flute; Sonny Payne: drums; Grover Mitchell: flute; George Cohn: trumpet; Al Aarons: trumpet; Fip Ricard: trumpet; George Buddy Carlett: bass guitar.
Swinging, Singing, Playing
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.