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Buck Clayton All Stars: Brussels, 1961

These discs were both recorded during a tour by the best of several bands Buck Clayton led in Europe. It was composed of old Basie associates (Dicky Wells, Emmett Berry, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate) and an excellent rhythm section of Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey and Oliver Jackson. Like the groups of Ellingtonians Johnny Hodges took over there, it appealed to Europeans for what might be termed its homogeneity. Unity of purpose, mutual understanding and no clashes of style once more defied the thinking that idiomatic differences had a stimulating effect on musicians. This Clayton group perpetuated pre-bop values very effectively, both in solos and its reduced-size ensembles.

The Storyville set has all the titles on the TCB except “St. Louis Blues” and it adds “St. James Infirmary” (a trumpet and vocal showcase for Berry), “Don’t Blame Me” (a Thompson solo) and “Stomping at the Savoy” (a quartet feature for the leader). The Swiss concert, however, retains Clayton’s engaging announcements (in French) and offers an opportunity for comparisons between each individual’s solos.

The Basel notes are written with authority by bassist Jimmy Woode, then residing in Switzerland. Referring to “Night Train” and Jimmy Forrest’s borrowing from “Happy-Go-Lucky Local,” he says he would gladly have given up all his rights (in Forrest’s position) “for a few more dulcet Dick Wells solo choruses on the blues.” Apart from an undistinguished clarinet solo by Warren and drum solos by Jackson that go on far too long on “Swingin’ the Blues,” all the soloists acquit themselves as meritoriously as one would expect. (Warren’s reputation, incidentally, was largely won as a lead alto, but his solos on that instrument are conspicuous here for fire and drive.) Wells’ work, however, has a special significance, as Woode intimated.

The masterpieces Hodeir praised in his book were made in Paris in 1937. Here, 24 years later, Wells hadn’t the same power and brilliance, but he was not yet a soloist to be dismissed as Hodeir did. Liquor, he admitted, diminished his ability at times, but the influence of Lester Young is agreeably evident in his playing here. While with Basie, they had been a kind of mutual-admiration society. In several instances, Wells seems to stand up, pull himself together and then deliver a series of original thoughts, some strongly swinging, some mockingly ironical, some gently lyrical and others daringly exploratory, all marked by his individuality of tone. If only for his solos, it is worthwhile getting both discs-discs which have such a buoyant spirit that they are refreshing in their entirety.

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