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Buddy Rich: Argo, EmArcy and Verve Small Group Buddy Rich Sessions

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Buddy Rich was, among many other things, the quintessential big-band drummer: As he proved on countless bandstands over a half-century career, he could kick-start a horn section with pitch-perfect brawn and brio. But Rich also led plenty of small and midsize combos over the years. This box set chronicles a handful of them, from 1953 to 1961, and makes the case for Rich as a galvanizing drummer in any setting, as well as a gifted, if limited, ensemble leader.

This was a rather unsettled time in Rich’s career. He had already become a household name, more or less, by way of an association with producer Norman Granz. But he had yet to find success with a big band of his own; these sessions cover a period in which he marked time with the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James, played Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic and took a crack at becoming a popular singer. That last struggle is especially well documented in John McDonough’s liner essay, which takes a warmly affectionate tone. McDonough may have played it too nice; to judge by the only vocal side included here-“Bongo, Bass and Guitar,” a song as smart as it sounds-it’s to the benefit of all involved that Rich was forced to keep his day job.

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