Monday, September 19, 2011

New Record! Count Basie: The Best of Count Basie

Review # 40
Artist: Count Basie and his orchestra
Title: The Best of Count Basie
Format: LP (X2)
Label: Decca
Year: ?
Songs: 24

Hello readers! I'm back from my honeymoon and back to reviewing records! Today I'm listening to a record I bought shortly before I left but didn't get a chance to listen to until today, Decca's double LP best of collection for Count Basie. I picked this up on the advice of my buddy Colin, who seldom steers me wrong on anything. This was no exception. While a number of the tracks on this overlap with the previously reviewed French Count Basie LP (See review # 27), this was still a good purchase at $3.

For one thing, unlike the French best of collection I reviewed previously, this record has extensive liner notes I can actually read, written by Stanley Dance. The cover of this LP is gatefold, and within are several pictures of Basie and his band as well as several pages detailing how the group formed and their rise from a locally successful band in Kansas City to a jazz phenomenon in Chicago. There's also some discussion of Basie's style of arranging tunes. Basie, according to the writer, was the master of stripping down songs to their basic elements and riffing on these simplified versions. Thus, even when he played other people's songs, they became his own as he took the bits that he liked, stripped them down, and built up from there, not unlike the folk tradition of borrowing melodic or lyrical lines from other songs and making them one's own. My knowledge of jazz isn't deep enough that I could have come to this conclusion on my own, but after reading this and listening to the record, I can really hear it. Basie's version of "Honeysuckle Rose," for instance, is recognizable as a version of that song, but has little in common in with other versions I've heard, leaving out some of the most recognizable bits of the song, and transforming the others into something  that, while not entirely different, feels like a Basie composition. The liner notes also include a chronology of the band's personnel.

The music here is also fantastic. The record includes hits like "One O'Clock Jump" and "Swinging The Blues" that make me wish I could play jazz. These tunes are mostly instrumental, but Jimmy Rushing contributes his bellowing, bluesy vocal to a handful of the songs, and Helen Humes also appears on "Blame it on My Last Affair," adding an Ella Fitzgerald-esqe vocal.These two LPs are filled with foot-tapping swing jazz numbers that are full of energy and are just plain cool. The timing is perfect, the band all clearly consummate professionals, yet at the same time they manage to sound like they're just out there having the time of their lives. I could listen to this collection of songs all day long. If you're getting into jazz and don't have any Count Basie in your collection, I think this double LP would be hard to beat.

Here's "Honeysuckle Rose." See if you can hear what Dance is talking about with regard to Basie's arrangements.

Total songs listened: 521

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