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January/February 2001

Woody Herman
The Complete Capitol Recordings of Woody Herman
Mosaic Records

While Woody Herman's celebrated First Herd of 1944 to 1946 was unquestionably the darling of both critics and jazz fans alike, it would have been naive to think that he could have maintained that band in the face of mounting economic pressures and changes in public taste. As a matter of fact, he was forced to disband in December 1946 and did not regroup until 10 months later, this time with the Second Herd or, as it was called just as frequently, the Four Brothers band. Taking its name from the Jimmy Giuffre chart that featured the Lestorian sax section sound of three tenors and a baritone, this band departed from the all-out swing of the First Herd by incorporating even more elements of bop and Stravinsky-inspired harmonies. On this Capitol set, which consists of 108 tracks, inclusive of 15 unissued performances, we hear the various Herman bands from December 1948 through May 1956, during which time there were many changes in personnel, if not overall style.

Highlighting disc one, which opens with bop-inspired Shorty Rogers charts on "That's Right" and "Lemon Drop," is the solo work of Terry Gibbs, Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Lou Levy, Earl Swope and Red Rodney, while Bill Harms, an earlier Herdsman, appears for the first of many appearances on "I Ain't Gonna Wait Too Long." Stan Getz scores his first major hit on Ralph Burns' "Early Autumn," his brief solo defining for all time the lyrical beauty of which this gifted young man was capable. He also swings along with Serge, Zoot and Harris, on Rogers' "Keeper of the Flame," a romping take on "I've Found a New Baby" changes. "More Moon" features Getz's replacement, Gene Ammons, who also shines on Johnny Mandel's "Not Really the Blues" and "The Great Lie." The vocals on several of the other titles are by the never fully appreciated Mary Ann McCall and Woody, who also blows solid clarinet and alto throughout, especially so on Burns' "Rhapsody in Wood."

Taken slightly out of sequence, the opening tracks on disc two showcase a markedly changed personnel from May 1950, with Milt Jackson now in for Gibbs, but with Harris still the dominating voice on such tunes as "You're My Everything" and Al Cohn's "Music to Dance to" and "Sonny Speaks." The balance of this disc is filled out with some 1949 to 1955 commercial novelty items quite at odds from the band's hipper output.

Once again, a different lineup is in place for disc three, which opens strikingly with Burns' 1954 "Misty Morning," upon which Woody, now on alto, and tenorman Bill Perkins register some inspired work. Major soloists throughout this side are Perkins, trumpeter Dick Collins, bass trumpeter Cy Touff and, on "Autobahn Blues" and "Sleep," trumpeter John Howell and baritonist Jack Nimitz. Trombonist Dick Kenney first emerges on Manny Albam's "Would He?" while Perkins and Dick Hafer trade Prez licks on Burns' heated "(Wild) Apple Honey."

The tracks on disc four, from June 1955 on, feature yet another edition of the band, with Richie Kamuca and Hafer on tenors alongside Touff and Kenney as primary soloists. The outstanding charts here are Nat Pierce's reworking of Horace Silver's "Opus De Funk," Burns' "Good Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and Albam's swinging "Captain Ahab."

The sessions on disc five are also purposely placed out of sequence, but they do include several fine 1956 vocal blues by Woody and solos by Harris and Kamuca. By far the best of the latter day sessions, though, are those from December 1955, which feature, on 12 tracks, an octet consisting of three brassmen, Woody, Kamuca and three rhythm players. These serve to conclude a highly rewarding collection of 1950s Woody Herman, as equally valuable for its many brilliant arrangements as for its outstanding solo work throughout.

Originally published in January/February 2001
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