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Woody Herman: Blowin’ Up a Storm: The Columbia Years 1945-1947

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.

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