Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Basic Basie" (Remastered)

This article was first published at Blogcritics

When it comes to swinging big band jazz there are always the familiar names at the top of the list—Goodman, Dorsey, Ellington, and of course Basie. And whenever their work happens to get another life as from some newly discovered archived performance, or a reissue of an out of print album, it is easy to see why. Great soloists, tight ensemble work: these outfits are the crowning glory of the middle of the last century. So when that antique material comes available, you don’t want to miss out on it.

MPS, the German record company is in the process of releasing re-mastered CDs of music from its back catalogue, and among those releases is a fine 1969 recording of the Count Basie Orchestra, called Basic Basie. This is an album that had also been released in the U. S. by Verve records, both as a single LP and a two LP set. The MPS reissue is limited to the single.

Featured on the album are Basie’s tenor saxophone stalwart, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, guitarist Freddie Green, and trumpeter Oscar Brashear. In addition, as the limited liner notes point out, Basie, at the request of MPS head Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, did a lot more work on the piano than was his normal practice. Chico O’Farrill, though best known for his Afro-Cuban music, handled the arrangements on all but one of the album’s dozen tunes with a real feel for the Basie vibe.  Tenor sax man and flautist Eric Dixon gets credit for the haunting arrangement of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You.”

The majority of the album consists of selections from the Great American Songbook. Basie’s piano introduces a fine version of the classic “Moonglow” and a shorter preface to a laid back “Sweet Lorraine.” He comes back later in the number to take the tune to conclusion. He is also spotlighted on a torrid “Ain’t Misbehaving.”

The set opens with the up-tempo “Idaho” and closes with a sweetly syncopated “I’ve Got the World on a String.” They have fun with a witty arrangement of a novelty number like “Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me,” while riffing their way through Basie’s original “M-Squad.” “Blues in My Heart,” “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “Don’t Worry Bout Me,” and “As Long as I Live” complete this lively trip to Basie country.

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