Count Basie ‘Original Album Series’ 5 CD Box Set (Warners) 4/5

count-basieFollowing the budget price format of five albums in a slim line pack, the late 1950s work of Count Basie and his orchestra are in the limelight this time. While, perhaps, not as fêted as Duke Ellington, Basie was nonetheless one of the most inventive band leaders to emerge from the swing era, a clear-cut above the majority of popular swing bands, and was at his creative peak in the mid-late 1950s when his orchestra was made up of a magnificent reed section comprising tenorist Frank Foster, altoist/flautist Frank Wess and trumpeter Thad Jones, with Freddie Green accompanying on guitar. This classic line-up is reflected in the album that many regard as his masterpiece, ‘The Atomic Mr. Basie’ from 1957 and it stands the test of time extremely well and needs little introduction. It was virtually the same band that recorded the wonderful live ‘Basie at Birdland’ set from 1961 and this features classic renditions of the Basie repertoire including an extended ‘Segue in C’, the evergreen ‘One O’Clock Jump’ and some entertaining guest vocals from Jon Hendricks on ‘Whirl Blues’. Predating the studio album ‘The Atomic Mr. Basie’ by a year, ‘Chairman of the Board’ contains the excellent ‘Moten Swing’ and a studio take on ‘Segue in C’. Another album from 1959, ‘Basie One More Time’, features the arrangements and compositions of a young Quincy Jones and a highlight here is an interpretation of ‘The midnight sun never sets’. The one vocal album, ‘Count Basie Swings, Tony Bennett Sings’, seems a little out-of-place here, though there is no doubting Bennett’s ability to swing with the orchestra and this he does on tunes such as ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘Chicago’ while there is balladry on offer on ‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’. Not included on this set are the Roulette albums from the same era that paired Basie and cohorts with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan and any of these might have made a better pairing with the mainly instrumental sets.

Tim Stenhouse