How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Those mail-order mavens at Mosaic have continued to quarry the Capitol vaults with new and blithe packages of the works of Bob Cooper, Frank Rosolino, Bill Holman, Peggy Lee, June Christy, and Jack Teagarden recently on the dock, not to mention the massive 12-disc compilation of rare Capitol sides from the pre-LP era. This latest perusal of the vaults brings to light some long-forgotten performances from drummer Gene Krupa and trumpeter Harry James on an attractive seven-disc boxed set.
If you're scratching your head trying to recall when Gene Krupa recorded for Capitol, don't ponder too long because in actuality he never did. That is, Krupa never made any commercially-issued records for the label. The music assembled here was recorded over the course of seven sessions during 1946 and 1947, all of which were done for the purpose of distribution to independent radio stations. With various cuts popping up on different specialty labels during the '70s and '80s, this marks the first time that all the music documented during these sessions is issued in full.
As annotator John McDonough points out in his embellished liners, Krupa was in good spirits and leading a tasteful big band unit when these radio transcriptions were produced. The arrangements (supplied by such "names" as Gerry Mulligan, Budd Johnson, and Jimmy Mundy) are straight to the point and purposeful, with none of the selections, save an attenuated Ellington medley, going beyond four minutes in length. Standards seem to be the order of the day, with "My Old Flame," "Begin the Beguine," "How High the Moon," and "What Is This Thing Called Love" being just a sample of the many selected pieces.
Among the few soloists who actually step out front on more than one occasion (it's interesting to note that Krupa does not take any protracted solos), the obvious winner here is tenor saxophonist Charlie Ventura, the big-toned gusto of Ben Webster an obvious influence. Vocalists Buddy Stewart and Carolyn Grey each contribute a number of vocal offerings to no great effect. In fact, Grey's spin on "Boogie Blues" sounds uncomfortably like an extrapolation of Billie Holiday's "Fine and Mellow" and Stewart's Bing Crosby-inflected fluff on "Old Folks at Home" is sorely antiquated. Nonetheless, these blemishes in no way take anything from the solid instrumentals.
Considering that these transcriptions were mastered from original acetates, the richness of sound and lack of excessive surface noise is downright remarkable. Taken in small doses, the music heard on this set's first four discs is prototypical big band swing that will be a valued addition to the collection of any Krupa fan.
Between July of 1955 and the subsequent three years to follow, trumpeter Harry James stepped into Capitol's Los Angeles studios no less than twenty times, the collective product of these sessions originally being issued on vinyl as Harry James in Hi-Fi, More Harry James in Hi-Fi, Wild About Harry, The New James, Harry's Choice, and the Capitol compilation Dance to the Bands.
Although the majority of the big bands assembled for these recordings are equipped with studio players of little major-name recognition, there's a vivacity and wallop to the proceedings that gives James the ability to make the most of these generally brief performances. As a forum for honing their skills, we get a nice taste of the early efforts of such arrangers as Bill Holman, Ernie Wilkins, Ray Conniff, Shorty Rogers, Neal Hefti, Billy May, and Jimmy Mundy.
Although the general emphasis here is on big bands, you'll find the tasteful presence of strings on occasion, the addition of vocalist Helen Forrest for four cuts, and utilization of some smaller ensembles. A November 1957 session that yielded just two pieces would even make use of a smaller group that sported several guitars, mandolins, and an accordion. Throughout it all, James takes his place as one of the brassiest and most flamboyant performers on the instrument yet to be recognized as such, taking a similar place alongside other overlooked greats like Don Goldie, Billy Butterfield, Bobby Hackett, and many others.
Remastered from the original mono and stereo master tapes, the James sessions are sonically sharp and appealing, surely taken as state-of-the-art at the time. The entire package is housed in a custom 12 x 12 box that includes a handsome 24-page booklet chock full of adroit commentary and an abundance of photos taken from the collections of Michael Ochs, Frank Driggs, and the Capitol Records archives. Limited to 7,500 copies worldwide, these sets are only available through the mail. For more information please contact Mosaic Records at 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut, 06902, 203-327-7111. You can also order on the web at www.mosaicrecords.comCollective
Collective Harry James, Red Rodney, Ray Triscari, Jimmy Milazzo, Joe Triscari, Don Fagerquist, Tony Anelli, Al Porcino, Ed Badgley, Nick Buono, Phil Cook, Everett McDonald, Ralph Osborn, Conrad Gozzo, Art Depew, Joe Dolny, Don Smith, Mickey Mangano, Don Paladino, Bob Rolfe, Ollie Mitchell, Ray Linn- trumpet; Tasso Harris, Nick Gaglio, Dick Taylor, Bob Ascher, Clay Harvey, Dick Taylor, Emil Manazec, Jack Zimmerman, Lew McGreary, Hoyt Bohannon, Ray Main, Juan Tizol, Dick Nash, George Roberts, Bob Edmondson, Robert Robinson, Ray Sims, Herbie Harper, Ernie Tack- trombone; Charlie Kennedy, Harry Terrill, Charlie Ventura, Joe Koch, Sam Marowitz, Buddy Wise, Mitch Melnick, Jack Schwartz, Willie Smith, Herb Lorden, Pat Chartrand, Jeff Massingill, Bob Poland, Corky Corcoran, Herbie Steward, Tom Suthers, Francis Polifroni, Ernie Small, Sam Firmature- saxophones; Mike Triscari, Bob Lesher, Allan Reuss, Tiny Timbrell, Laurindo Almeida, Nick Bonney, Dennis Budimir- guitar; Nestor Amaral, Jose Oliveira- mandolin; Dominick Frontiere- accordion; Teddy Napoleon, Buddy Neal, Doug Parker, Larry Kinnamon, Jack Perciful- piano; Irv Lang, Bob Strahl, Bob Stone, Joe Comfort, Russ Phillips- bass; Gene Krupa, Joe Dale, Gene Estes, Buddy Combine, Buddy Rich, Leo Acosta, Jackie Mills- drums; Caroline Grey, Buddy Stewart, Helen Forrest, Bob Marlo, The Starlighters- vocals; various strings
Track Information:137 performances, including the 74 Gene Krupa sides which have never been commercially issued in complete form prior, plus two unissued cuts from the James sessions.