Count Basie Orchestra: Live at MCG

This 1996 date marks the onset of yet another edition of the Basie band, this one under the alert ear of conductor/trombonist Grover Mitchell. Though the cast keeps changing, the band still connects to its Kansas City roots. In goldies like Neil Hefti’s swirling “Whirly Bird” and Frank Foster’s palpitating “Down for the Count,” the Basie pulse, at once driving and swingingly sublime, throbs with a bluesy beat. The band’s takes on Ellington classics “Cottontail” and “In a Mellow Tone” also groove.

Vocalist Chris Murrell makes an impressive debut on Eric Dixon’s “Bug Out.” Cameos by the New York Voices on tracks like the peppy “Love Makes the World Go Round” also hit home. Yes, there are glitches yet to work out. But Mitchell’s edition is off to an impressively solid start. While keeping the Basie torch brightly aglow, the disc also benefits the Jazz Training Program of Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, an agency dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of Pittsburgh’s youth. In all, it’s great music for a great cause!