The “complete recordings” of any artist, no matter how accomplished he or she may be, are almost by definition a mixed bag, and Mosaic’s The Complete Capitol Recordings of Woody Herman
is no exception. Complementing superb entries from a number of memorable LPs by Woody’s Thundering Herds, circa 1948–56, are tracks on which Herman performs with the Chuck Thomas Dixieland Band, sings (“Mule Train,”(!) “My Baby Just Cares for Me”) with Nat King Cole and his trio, with the long–forgotten Alyce King Vocettes and Allen Sisters, and by himself (admittedly an acquired taste) on too many other selections including nine of the last ten on Disc 6. Even so, the inclusion of Road Band!
and The Woody Herman Band!
alone makes this limited–edition set (only 7,500 were pressed) an indispensable adjunct to anyone’s Herman library, as they are among the most impressive albums the latter–day Herds ever recorded, with the tracks from Capitol Jazz Classics, Vol. 9
(including “That’s Right,” “Lemon Drop,” “Early Autumn,” “Keeper of the Flame,” “More Moon,” “Not Really the Blues,” “Tenderly,” “Lollipop” and “The Great Lie”), although previously issued on CD, in every respect their equal in terms of unalloyed musical pleasure. This is, in fact, one instance in which the term “Jazz classics” is entirely warranted. Herman always employed topnotch arrangers (Manny Albam, Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Jimmy Giuffre, Neal Hefti, Bill Holman, Johnny Mandel, Billy May, Nat Pierce and Shorty Rogers are among those represented here) while a list of Woody’s sidemen (and soloists) reads like a Who’s Who of modern Jazz icons starting with the reedmen who gave the band its singular voice — tenors Cohn, Giuffre, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins, Gene Ammons, Buddy Wise and Dick Hafer, baritones Serge Chaloff and Jack Nimitz — and including trumpeters Rogers, Conte and Pete Candoli, Red Rodney, Ernie Royal and Al Porcino; trombonists Bill Harris, Eddie Bert and Earl Swope; the inimitable bass trumpeter Cy Touff; guitarists Barney Kessel and Billy Bauer; vibraphonists Terry Gibbs, Milt Jackson and Victor Feldman; bassists Chubby Jackson, Oscar Pettiford, Joe Mondragon and Red Mitchell; drummers Don Lamond, Shelly Manne, Sonny Igoe, Chuck Flores, Buddy Rich (who sits in for Flores on "Drums in Hi-Fly") and pianists Pierce, Lou Levy and Dave McKenna. The Jazz Classics
selections are included on Disc 1; those from The Woody Herman Band!
are on Disc 3, while Disc 4 opens with five numbers from Road Band!
including Pierce's definitive arrangement of Horace Silver's "Opus de Funk," Albam's fiery "Captain Ahab" and three superlative charts by Burns - "Cool Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Pimlico" and "I Remember Duke." Also included are Pierce's deft treatment of "Sentimental Journey" and Holman's discerning glance at Rodgers and Hart's ballad, "Where or When." Tracks from The Woody Herman Band!
are "Misty Morning," "Boo Hoo," "Hittin' the Bottle," "By Play," La Cucaracha Mambo," "Autobahn Blues," "Sleep," "Ill Wind," "Strange," "Would He?" and "(Wild) Apple Honey." Although the big-band selections comprise the heart and soul of The Complete Capitol Recordings
, there are more than enough valuable nuggets concealed elsewhere within its precincts to make the enterprise as a whole thoroughly rewarding on its own terms, especially for those who appreciate the unparalled stylings - vocal or instrumental - of one of the dominant forces in post-bop big-band swing, Woodrow Charles Herman. As always, Mosaic's standards in production and packaging are beyond reproach. Despite its uneven makeup, the set is highly recommended - but you'd best move quickly; once the 7,500 are gone, there'll be no second chances.
Contact:Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902 (phone 203–327–7111; fax 203–323–3526; website, www.mosaicrecords.com).