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