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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Basie at Birdland

Roulette Jazz 0946 3 97449 2 3





1. Little Pony
2. Basie
3. Blues Backstage
4. Blee Blop Blues
5. Whirly-Bird
6. One O'Clock Jump
7. Good Time Blues
8. Segue In C
9. One O'Clock Jump
10. Easin' It
11. A Little Tempo, Please
12. Corner Pocket
13. I Needs To Be Bee'd With
14. Discommotion
15. Segue In C
16. Whirly-Bird
17. One O'Clock Jump
Count Basie – Piano
Thad Jones, Sonny Cohn, Lennie Johnson, Snooky Young – Trumpets
Quentin Jackson, Henry Coker, Benny Powell – Trombones
Marshal Royal – Alto sax, clarinet
Frank Wess – Alto sax, tenor sax, flute
Frank Foster, Budd Johnson - Tenor saxes
Charlie Fowlkes - Baritone sax
Freddie Green - Guitar
Eddie Jones - Bass
Sonny Payne - Drums.
Jon Hendricks – Vocals (track 5)

I never really took to the Count Basie Orchestra when I was a novice jazz fan, probably because most of his early recordings somehow didn’t capture the live atmosphere of the band. However, two things changed my opinion. The 1957 album The Atomic Mr Basie proved what the band could really do – an impression that was fortified by hearing the band at London’s Royal Festival Hall. It was a knockout, as the hall’s acoustics allowed us to hear just how powerful the band could be in a concert setting. I became – and remain – a convert.

This CD was recorded in 1961 at Birdland in New York City, by virtually the same line-up as I heard in London, and it captures the vigorous punch of that ensemble. The album kicks off (and I do mean "kicks") with Little Pony, written by Neal Hefti - the man who crafted The Atomic Mr Basie. Frank Foster contributes a storming tenor sax solo and the typically driving Basie rhythm section keeps the whole thing moving. Basie opens the second (eponymous) track on gentle piano, with drummer Sonny Payne interpolating some stunning punctuation. Throughout this album we are reminded of Sonny’s brilliance – not only by the way he underlines every accent but also for catalysing the band with his dynamic enthusiasm. Blues Backstage is one of those bouncy slow-burners that Basie did so well. It includes a laid-back solo from tenorist Budd Johnson and some high-note showing-off by trumpeter Snooky Young.

Neil Hefti’s Whirly-Bird introduces singer Jon Hendricks who scats his way through the tune, while Good Time Blues allows Count Basie to stretch out at the piano in leisurely fashion, with some rather distracting background conversation from the audience (and probably the band), after which Quentin Jackson preaches eloquently on trombone. Jackson solos again on the jaunty Segue in C, which runs for nine gorgeous minutes of bluesy musicianship, starting with Basie’s piano and including Budd Johnson’s mellow saxophone as well as Frank Wess’s flute in harmony with the trumpets. It proves conclusively that this band was supreme in the art of swing. The Basie signature tune, One O’Clock Jump, starts as expected with the Count’s bubbly piano backed by the perfect rhythm of Freddie Green and Eddie Jones, before Sonny Payne ignites the proceedings to make way for solos from Frank Foster and Benny Powell.

The original 1961 LP ended at this point, but the remastered CD contains no fewer than eight extra tracks, also recorded at Birdland. These include alternate takes of Segue in C and Whirly-Bird (the latter without Jon Hendricks but with a burning solo from Budd Johnson). Other highlights include the massive sax section sound and the duelling trombones and trumpets on Easin’ It, and Frank Foster’s composition Discommotion with its unusual voicings. Even without these bonus tracks, the album would be well worth buying but the additions make it a veritable cornucopia of fine music.

Tony Augarde


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