Taken from five 1954-58 Vanguard LPs, the twelve tracks heard on this admirable compilation suffer not a bit from Basie's only minimal presence at the piano. Indeed, his spirit suffuses each and every performance by the varied cast of former and current sidemen. This is not to say that session pianists Johnny Acea, Nat Pierce, Bobby Henderson, Hank Jones, and Ray Bryant consciously try to mimic the style of the "boss," but rather that the various hornmen and rhythm teams reflect in their solos, ensemble riffing, and pulsating time the direct influence of the master. In the mid- to late '50s, the Basie and Ellington bands represented the last large-scale vestiges of what the late Stanley Dance dubbed "mainstream jazz" in response to the popularity of bop, a style of jazz that he never ceased to regret and deplore. It was largely through his efforts for other labels, as well as John Hammond's for Vanguard, that the careers of so many of the swing era jazz veterans heard here were granted a few more years of active contribution to their art.
Seasoned collectors usually look askance upon anthology collections, far preferring to have their reissues to be as complete as possible, even to the inclusion of previously unissued alternate takes. But anthologies do serve a valid purpose for entry-level enthusiasts, especially those with short pockets. However, it is hoped that in the near future Vanguard will reissue all of this material in complete form. For now, though, we must remain content with the partial picture that this release offers. Distributed throughout, albeit in a rather haphazard fashion, are two titles by a Joe Newman combo with the "Two Franks" (Wess and Foster) and Matthew Gee; two from a classic Jo Jones session with Lucky Thompson, Emmett Barry, Benny Green, Nat Pierce, a guesting Basie, Freddie Green, and Walter Page; three from the once highly popular A Night At Count Basie's, featuring Joe Williams with Berry, Vic Dickenson, and organist Marlowe Morris; four from Buck Clayton's Buckin' The Blues with Vic, Jo, and Earl Warren; and one from Jo's second album, a trio date with Ray and Tommy Bryant.
No one familiar with the work and reputations of giants like Buck, Emmett, Vic, Benny, and Lucky needs to be reminded of their continuing importance as role model improvisors. But younger listeners should especially be alerted to the wide variety of timbrel, rhythmic, and harmonic voices once widely available to jazzmen of earlier eras. Here's a good place to start the learning process.