Woody Herman's late-fifties band was stocked with talented newcomers and a few seasoned veterans, all of whom as a unit packed the powerful punch that of a generation of players weaned on Ellington and bebop records. While many big bands were floundering or had packed it in, Herman's Herd continued to create worthwhile music even after his best work was behind him.
This compilation features tracks from five different releases on the Everest label and showcases a band in cracking form. The first five cuts amply demonstrate the bright, brassy style and whirlwind soloing of this edition of the band. Tracks from The Herd Rides Again are evergreen Herman charts resurrected for the fifties, one of which features a jubilant Herman vocal.
But what makes these sessions especially interesting is the collaborations with other musicians that provide a great deal of variety. Tito Puente adds some clattering Afro-Cuban rhythms for a few tracks from Herman's Heat and Puente's Beat; and Herd bassist Chubby Jackson takes over the reins from Herman for a record of his own that, appropriately, shows a firm rhythmic bounce. In one of the more interesting sessions, the band backs guitarist Charlie Byrd on fantastic explorations into flamenco, blues, and jazz. It's some of the most captivating work Byrd ever did, a short time before he became seduced by bossa nova.
The session ends with perhaps the best recording of the Ebony Concerto, a work written by Igor Stravisnky specifically for Herman. Many jazz-influenced classical works don't work all that well; this is one that does.
Perhaps Herman took advantage of the waning interest in big band music to stretch out a little bit and explore the possibilities. No matter what, Herman's Everest work is some of the best big band music of the fifties.
Personnel: Woody Herman and his Herd.