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September 2001

Woody Herman
Blowin' Up a Storm: The Columbia Years 1945-1947
Columbia/Legacy

The members of Woody Herman's First Herd were masters of the head arrangement, exemplars of exuberance and hard swingers who set standards of drive, precision, dynamics and enthusiasm that big bands have aspired to ever since. Reminiscing a couple of years ago about the great listening experiences of his life, trombonist Milt Bernhart called the First Herd, "killers of the mid-'40s, the most thrilling bunch of musicians ever assembled." That may seem like hyperbole, but the first extensive CD package of Herman's Columbia recordings of the 1940s confirms Bernhart's claim as objective description.

The sound quality of these recordings was superb for the time, and the digital remastering from the original session lacquers discloses every nuance. It has never been clearer how the teamwork and power of drummer Dave Tough and bassist Chubby Jackson drove Herman's band to, and sometimes beyond, euphoria. It is a tribute to Don Lamond that when he took over the drum chair, nothing was lost. "Apple Honey," "Northwest Passage," "The Good Earth" and the other flag-wavers are all here, along with "Caldonia," "Blowin' Up a Storm," "Goosey Gander" and other classics arranged by Ralph Burns and Neal Hefti. Solos by trombonist Bill Harris, tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, trumpeters Pete Candoli and Sonny Berman are among the imperishable treasures of jazz recording. The set includes only four of the 10 pieces recorded by The Woodchoppers, the nine-piece group extracted from the big band. Fortunately, one of them is "Someday Sweetheart" with its explosive opening and indelible Bill Harris solo. It also brings to CD the original recording of "Ebony Concerto," the demanding piece composed for the First Herd and conducted by Igor Stravinsky, one of its fondest admirers.

The Second Herd is represented here in four of the eight tracks it recorded for Columbia before Herman switched to Capitol. Musically brilliant but unable to approach the popular success of the First Herd, the Second Herd quickly became known as the "Four Brothers" band for the Jimmy Guiffre piece by that name and the sax section of Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward and Serge Chaloff. Its bebop soul is evident in "Four Brothers," "Kean and Peachy" and "The Goof and I." Getz is brilliant in both takes of "Summer Sequence (Part IV)," the precursor of "Early Autumn," which made him a star.

Missing from this collection are 18 of the pieces that were in the lamented 1963 LP box The Thundering Herds. On the two-CD set we get 10 alternate takes. That's good for archivists, I suppose, but at least four of the alternates are substandard compared to the originally issued takes. They could have been held back to make room for more of The Woodchoppers and some of Mary Ann McCall's vocals, at least "Romance in the Dark." It is not too much to expect that one day The Thundering Herds will be reissued in its entirety. In the meantime, grab this set while it's available.

Originally published in September 2001
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