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Jazz - Released March 18, 2016 | RCA Bluebird

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Country - Released September 23, 2008 | RCA Bluebird

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Jazz - Released August 22, 2008 | RCA Bluebird

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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released August 19, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

What makes the Benny Goodman chapter in the RCA/Bluebird Centennial Collection series worthwhile is, in this case, the bonus DVD. While every volume in the series has one, Goodman and his bands were used by Hollywood more than most bands from the late 1930s and early '40s, and the stuff on here is prime, as well as the footage of later performances in the mid- '60s. Sure, the CD has good sound and the hits are all here, but the DVD has performances dating from the classic Victor era quartet as well as the orchestra. There are 12 selections on the DVD. The first is almost worth the price of admission on its own. Playing a medley of "I've Got a Heartful of Music," "Avalon," and "House Hop," this film was issued as a short in its own right as a part of a tribute to Will Rogers. Along with killer close-ups of Goodman, we also get Gene Krupa and Harry Carney in fine swinging style. There are three tunes that come from the 1942 film The Powers Girl, and feature the quintet playing "I Know That You Know," as well as the orchestra ripping it up on "One O'Clock Jump," and "Roll 'Em." The classic trailer form the 1943 picture Gang's All Here is included, as well as some cool network TV performances from 1960 with Red Norvo, and then there's the greatest of all the Goodman footage in "Why Don't You Do Right," with a young Peggy Lee in Stage Door Canteen, plus a great clip of the title cut from Bugle Call Rag. There is also an interview wit Goodman in audio-only to wind up the set, but in all it totals a fine collection -- one that fans need -- and serves as an amazing historical introduction to the great bandleader. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released June 22, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

Whenever great American song in general, or a classic songwriter specifically, goes through another phase of popularity, record labels invariably cast around to assemble yet another round of songbook compilations with artists from their catalog interpreting the standards. In 2004, on the occasion of the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely (starring Kevin Kline), Bluebird/BMG entered the sweepstakes with It's De Lovely: The Authentic Cole Porter Collection. This collection is authentic because Porter was signed to Bluebird's long-ago parent label RCA Victor, and the label proved home to many of the best versions of his songs. It's also authentic because it features two rare performances by Porter himself. Although he never recorded with orchestral accompaniment for commercial release, Porter did record eight demos in 1934 accompanied only by his clumsy piano, and 70 years later producer Barry Feldman and bandleader Vince Giordano paved over the original backing with a newly recorded backing track that relies on a mid-'30s arrangement. The result is successful; Porter's voice betrays a few similarities to Mickey Mouse's but is no more idiosyncratic than Broadway hero Cliff Edwards, his interpretation is naturally superb, and the new accompaniment is unobtrusive. The rest of the compilation is more problematic. While most songbook compilations focus either on vintage versions contemporary to the song or later interpretations, It's De Lovely attempts both but manages only a hodgepodge of artists and time periods. The compilation certainly doesn't shirk in its presentation of excellent, classic material, but it never coalesces as a representative picture of Porter's genius. Only a few performances easily evoke Porter's era: the classic versions of "Night and Day" and "Begin the Beguine" by Fred Astaire and Artie Shaw (respectively), a performance of "Easy to Love" by the beloved crooner Al Bowlly, and a mournful version of "What Is This Thing Called Love" led by Leo Reisman and featuring trumpeter Bubber Miley from Duke Ellington's Orchestra. Latter-day interpretations by Sonny Rollins (of "You Do Something to Me") and Paul Desmond (of "I've Got You Under My Skin") are lovely also but difficult to reconcile to the whole. © John Bush /TiVo
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Blues - Released June 21, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

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Country - Released June 7, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

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Jazz - Released June 6, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

Although Rosemary Clooney worked with Nelson Riddle nearly every week for her '50s radio show, they were together for full LPs much less often -- only this record from 1961 and a 1963 follow-up titled Love. The pair made the most of their first collaboration, devising a program of 12 standards that combined Riddle's pugnacious yet intricate arrangements with Clooney's warm, grand vocals to create a swing record with feeling. Riddle's orchestra roars through his breakneck arrangements for "April in Paris" and "Cabin in the Sky," but Clooney weathers the storm with an elegance that borders on the untroubled. Vocalist fits together with orchestra like hand in glove, since nearly all of the musicians were veterans of her show. [A Bluebird reissue from 2004 added two bonus tracks, "Without Love" and "The Wonderful Season of Love" (the latter was the theme from Return to Peyton Place, directed by her husband, José Ferrer).] © John Bush /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 6, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

Bing Crosby claimed that this dozen-song collection was among his favorites, namely because he was able to call all the shots. In the liner text, Crosby -- who was already well into his fourth decade as a multimedia entertainer -- refers to the Bob Scobey-led project as "the album I had always wanted to make." Modern listeners may not be familiar with Scobey's work, however prior to World War II, the instrumentalist-turned-arranger was hailed as the 'King of the Dixieland Trumpet,' forming his own Frisco Band upon returning from military service in 1946. Likewise, as a sizable contributor to the Dixieland revival of the late '40s and early '50s, Scobey was the perfect choice for the collaboration. Although he hadn't fully retired, by 1957 rock & roll had irreparably altered the landscape of popular music, leaving Crosby's unmistakable crooning style passé. Since he was not a concurrent contender for the charts, the vocalist indulged his own considerable tastes and talents. Rather than having material specifically penned, Crosby and Scobey were joined by arranger Matty Matlock and together they chose a handful of numbers that will inevitably be familiar, highlighted by outstanding readings of "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "Some Sunny Day." Head and shoulders above the rest is a spirited rendition of "Mack the Knife," easily rivalling Louis Armstrong's memorable version some eight-years later. Another zenith is the lesser-known "Last Night on the Backporch," as Der Bingle equals, if not arguably bests, Brit-vocal diva Alma Cogan's interpretation of a tune that became a signature in her tragically short career. Bing With a Beat (1957) was remastered and reissued as part of BMG/Bluebird's First Editions series and unlike many of the other entries, there are no bonus performances. That said, the audio quality is impeccable and the 12-page booklet contains rare photos from the recording session and an essay from jazz critic Will Friedwald. © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 20, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

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Vocal Jazz - Released April 3, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

Eliane Elias' second record for Bluebird is, like the previous Kissed by Nature, a vocal date intended for crossover audiences. Elias connects with her Brazilian pop heritage by choosing to sing, early on, a pair of Astrud Gilberto pieces, "Call Me" and "So Nice (Summer Samba)," both of which fortuitously suit the short range of her voice. Still, she speaks far more with a half-minute of piano soloing than she does with several minutes of vocal interpretation, and sounds far more comfortable taking an extra verse of the latter in Portuguese. Unlike the Gilberto tracks, Elias succeeds on two Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions, "Photograph" and the title song, her voice ironically betraying her in the same seductive fashion that Jobim himself made a hallmark. Her solos, though beautiful and contemplative, are short and usually hug the shore. As an overall musician, Elias has sure instincts when playing or singing, and compensates for her lack of vocal strength by rarely lingering on her notes. © John Bush /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released February 6, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

Because Harvey Mason has appeared so frequently as a sideman on lots of smooth jazz dates, one tends to think of him solely within that genre, even though his roots are in straight-ahead jazz. This rare date as a leader features the drummer leading a series of 11 different piano-bass-drums trios, primarily in post-bop, bop or hard bop settings. His arrangement of "Bernie's Tune" is very refreshing, utilizing reoccurring displaced rhythm behind Kenny Barron and Ron Carter. The magic continues with Chick Corea and Dave Carpenter in their creative rendition of "If I Should Lose You." Victor Feldman's less familiar "So Near, So Far" features Fred Hersch and Eddie Gomez, though the expected influence of the late Bill Evans is minimal. But elder statesman Hank Jones steals the spotlight with his elegant interpretation of "Tess," a tune that was brand new to him; Mason and Jones' longtime bassist George Mraz joins him. Some of the other participating musicians for this project include Monty Alexander, Charlie Haden, Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Bob James and Dave Grusin. Mason's informative liner notes not only describe how each take came together in the studio but add background about his relationship to each musician or what appealed to him about each individual's playing. The only oversight on this terrific release is the inadvertent omission of track-by-track composer credits, though a few of them are included within Mason's commentary. © Ken Dryden /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 23, 2004 | RCA Bluebird

On Strange Liberation -- a play on a phrase of Martin Luther King's; he once said that the Vietnamese must have seen Americans as "strange liberators" -- trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas expands his quintet to realize a long-held ambition: to have guitarist Bill Frisell in the ranks of his group. Douglas has once again stepped back from the precipice of his intense gaze at the musical landscape of American culture and turned his focus directly and intensely toward jazz for this set. Along with Frisell, pianist Uri Caine, saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist James Genus, and drummer Clarence Penn join Douglas for an electric jazz outing that falls far outside the purview of "fusion." Douglas has obviously composed these works with Frisell in mind, and this is his most saturated jazz date in some time. His playing here is front-line and full of his trademark counterpoint and atmospheric fills, as Douglas engages both the pastoral nature and the complexity of his harmonic view, making Caine a conflating bridge between the horns, guitar, and rhythm section. The album starts with a sparse melodic figure that borders on modalism in "A Single Sky," Frisell's microphonics holding the edges of the piece in check as Douglas and Potter weave through Caine's beautiful chord voicings in a minor progression. The title track uses a blues framework that allows Caine to play a skeletal funk vamp on his Rhodes in order to bring Douglas and Potter into the fore as Frisell paints the backdrop deep blue until it's his turn to solo. There are silences in the margins and they are used as an improvisational device, imposing themselves from outside on the players. "Frisell's Dream" and "Mountains from the Train" could have been on one of Frisell's own recordings. The latter is a mellow, pastoral soundscape with guitars played backwards and forwards and harmonics floating freely in the solo spaces that surround the melody -- a languid and unhurried line full of color, space, and texture played by the horns. Frisell's melodicism is played inversely here, and Caine fills in the dots. On "Frisell's Dream," an elegant jazz classicism is evoked in the head where blues, swing, and Aaron Copland's wit are on display in a knotty little melodic figure that gives way to an open-chorded Americana that is now Frisell's signature. And on "The Jones," the funky mischief of Thelonious Monk is touched upon in the melody as Caine muscles up the middle and punches through Douglas' lines as Penn's rim shots accent the edges of the time signature. Potter too climbs aboard the melody and Frisell once again becomes the guitarist as impressionist painter before Caine deftly wraps a knockout heavily arpeggiated solo through the entire proceeding and changes the pace. Strange Liberation is a laid-back record in terms of its dynamics, but in its imagination and depth it is one of the high marks of Douglas' thus far prolific career. Compositionally it is head and shoulders above most of the stuff out there, and in terms of the taste in its performance and elocution it is virtually untouchable. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released November 3, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

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Jazz - Released September 6, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

4 stars out of 5 - "Tom Harrell has been quietly building a consistent, substantial body of work featuring his own expansive compositions and arrangements." © TiVo
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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released August 12, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

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Jazz - Released August 12, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

This mid-priced collection is good as far as it goes, presenting 16 tracks derived from two distinctly separate periods in Count Basie's career. The first five cuts are by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, of which Basie was a key member as a pianist and arranger from 1929 until 1932, when he took over the band following Moten's death; the other 11 cuts date from Basie's brief return to RCA Victor in 1947-1949. The five Moten band tracks are flashy virtuoso pieces played at dizzying tempos, built around the prodigious talents of Harlan Leonard, Hot Lips Page, Ben Webster, and Eddie Barfield, as well as Basie's piano, which is a bit flashier than it would be in his own subsequent recordings. Those early sides are a delight, especially the sound they have on the fresh remasterings -- even Eddie Durham's guitar solo on "Moten Swing" sounds loud and close. The jump from those sides to the postwar material isn't remotely as jarring as one would think, despite the gap between them -- they have more of a polished sound (with George Matthews, in particular, delivering as sweet-sounding a trombone solo as you ever heard on "Futile Frustration," which is an exercise in neither), but otherwise it's just a more sophisticated take on the same core, just with 15 years of musical advancement between them. The assembly of material here seems focused on contrasts; "Swingin' the Blues"'s slow build-down followed by the brash "Lopin'," its focus shifting from Jo Jones' drums to Jack Washington's honking baritone sax and Basie's piano spot. Basie is also in the foreground on "I Never Knew," sharing the spotlight with Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax, and on "Seventh Avenue Express," and Jimmy Rushing also gets one featured number as well. The sound on this disc is a delight and also, curiously, a source of frustration -- one finishes it in pleasure, but also hoping that RCA/BMG might someday remaster the rest of the Basie/Moten sides and his late-'40s sides. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Blues - Released April 23, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

The fifth issue in Bluebird's Secret History of Rock & Roll project is the first by a single artist; the previous four have all been various-artists compilations. All feature excellent sound and decent if not exceptional packaging. This set, the complete RCA Victor recordings of Leadbelly, is up to that standard. All of the 26 tracks here were recorded in June of 1940 and released at various times as 78s by Bluebird. Some of the material includes virtually definitive versions of "Midnight Special," "Rock Island Line" (primarily because of the quality of the recording itself; the performance is awesome, but all of Leadbelly's performances of this song are), "Easy Rider," "Grey Goose," "TB Blues," "Don't You Love Your Daddy No More," the title track, "Stewball," and "I'm on My Last Go 'Round." This alone is reason enough for any fan of Leadbelly to purchase the CD, and these transfers are so fine, so warm, and so true sounding that they mark a new standard in remastering material from worn master tapes. (Give a listen to the back-to-back tracks "Good Morning Blues" and "Leaving Blues" -- they sound as if Leadbelly is hanging on your couch singing these songs.) The music here doesn't sound like archival material; it sounds alive and it becomes possible to hear what those who were initially knocked out by Leadbelly were able to experience. For anyone interested in Leadbelly's music, this is as essential as the Folkways recordings -- and in some ways, more so. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 15, 2003 | RCA Bluebird

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Recorded in Italy in 1962, Chet Is Back! showcases the "cool" trumpeter cutting loose on such bop-oriented workouts as "Pent-Up House" and "Well, You Needn't." Backed skillfully by a young cadre of up-and-coming European musicians, including the stellar saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, Chet Baker may have never sounded better, including on the ballads. One listen to "Over the Rainbow" and it's clear this is an overlooked Baker classic. [Fans should check out the 2003 reissue of Chet Is Back!, which includes four orchestral pop bonus tracks Baker recorded with Ennio Morricone around the same time as this session.] © Matt Collar /TiVo