THERE HAVE BEEN a plenitude of enthusiasts for the Count Basie band in recent years. For some the great attraction has been the saxophone section or the super-abundance of tenor soloists. For others, it has been the brass sound, entire or divided, as tastes will have these things, among the trumpets and trombones individually, among such sifted soloists as Joe Newman, Thad Jones, Henry Coker, Benny Powell, etc. For still others, it has been the rhythm section, as always one of the incomparable graces of the Basie organization. But however it comes out, and for whomever, the key word is usually that much overworked adjective, exciting.
Overworked or not, exciting is the word for Basie – exciting and all its most obvious synonyms, electrifying, thrilling, inflaming, arousing. For this band of Basie’s is more exciting, more electrifying, more thrilling, as reviewers have had more than one occasion to point out, than its recordings have usually revealed. The presence of the band is not easy to catch on records. One need to hear each of the sections separately, to grasp the soloistic quality of the saxes as a group or the trumpets or trombones, and still to have an unmistakable sense of the power of the band as a whole, of the wholeness of the whole Basie band.
All of that, it seems to me, has been caught here. It is a high compliment to Teddy Reig, the supervisor of this date, to point out that in these grooves the brass and the reeds have been separated, the rhythm given its own selective identity, without any loss of the integrating strength that pulls them all together into the phenomenon that is the Count Basie band.
The result of such a capturing of presence is not simply an increase in excitement, desirable and satisfying and stimulating as that may be. It is that additional revelation, the laying bare line by line of the scores the band is playing. When the scores are such as these by Neal Hefti, the baring of the inner parts offers the listener an experience of Basie, of big band music, of modern jazz, in depth.
Not the least of those who come into their own identities in this adventure in excitement is Basie himself. “The Kid From Red Bank” describes him and provides him with the kind of outing his delicate wit and muscular precision at the keyboard deserve. Up-tempo and shimmering, its simple figures offer a superb setting for his rhythmic suspensions, his stride-piano alterations, his tremolos and trills. They remind us, as his sound is contrasted incisively with the rest of the band, what a considerable musician he is, what a personality, how much and how properly he is the leader of the band.
While “The Kid” is Basie’s special outing, he is always, of course, a central element in the proceedings. He puts the funk in the funky “Duet” and “Midnite.” When his piano finally arrives (after a glancing intro) in “After Supper,” the mood is finally established: it is long after supper, around the time when most of the clubs are shutting up and after-hours blues are in order. He sets tone and tempo – up in “Double-O” and “Whirly-Bird,” middle-to-up in “Splanky” and “Fantail” – and helps to maintain both. And he is helped, and so is the listener, by the definition the recording confers on his every note and the band’s.
The same sort of definition preserves the delicate textures of one of the loveliest pieces of music Count has recorded in recent years, “Lil’ Darlin’.” Slow and cozening, this performance is all texture: the saxophones, very basic and thoroughly Basie, settling softly into place; Wendell Cully really moving his mellow muted-trumpet solo, in which he plays obbligato for the band and the band returns the compliment; the rhythm section, as gentle as its confreres in each of its appearances in the opulent opus.
Definition, again, makes another one of the great moments of this set come alive. In “Duet,” the pairing of Joe Newman and of Thad Jones, of mutes, growls, and a dozen different manipulations of trumpet sound, makes for brilliant jazz. The timing is fascinating to follow, the paired personalities absorbing throughout. This is the cool, relaxed, modern equivalent of the exuberant “Tootin’ Through The Roof” that Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart did for Duke Ellington in 1939. It is also a masterpiece in its own right, in which every part fits handsomely into place.
More of the same provision of detail can be found in the waddle-tempo “Teddy The Toad,” in which you can sort out the sections and Neal Hefti’s lines with the ease of an arranger consulting his own score. You can find the same sort of fidelity of sound in the clean recording which brings Eddie Lockjaw Davis’s tenor leaping through your speaker in several sides, notably “Flight Of The Foo Birds” and “After Supper. And you’ll find it once again in the vibrant presence of Frank Wess’s alto in “Fantail,” a flying piece which had to have some sort of Birdlike title, for certainly it has a Birdlike sound.
These are some of the reasons for celebrating the quality of this recording. There are, as always in Basie performances, a number of soloists well represented. The head man gives a solid account of himself. But most of all, there is the band. Take any one of the pieces – say “Splandy.: Listen to each of the sections of the band make its pertinent comments on the material at hand, swinging like single musicians, moving the whole performance ahead but without ever pushing over any of the light edifice into loud and tasteless rock ‘n’ roll exaggeration. Then go through the whole set, piece by piece, solo by solo, line by line, and distribute the credits evenly and fairly, as you must do and I must, too. And let us not, as we pass out the bouquets, neglect the man with the pen. In a presentation of the Count Basie band notable for its justness, for its attention to all the rich instrumental talent and all the high good taste of this band – in this presentation, not the least of the achievements is the evenness of the manuscript. Neal Hefti has matched – figure for figure, note for note-blower – his talent to the Basie band’s and it comes out, as it should, Basie.
That is the title of this album and the title, the extraordinary title, of the accomplishment of everyone connected with it – it comes out Basie.