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Count Basie: The Golden Years

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the Pablo recordings in this attractive four-CD set were made between 1972-1983, the final phase of Basie’s long career. They were “golden years,” too, in the sense that during them he was fortunate to enjoy Norman Granz’s powerful support.

The first disc is devoted to live performances by both the band and all-star concert groups. The first two numbers-heavy and busy-disappoint, and none of the soloists is of a stature to avoid being dwarfed. Things look up with Jimmy Forrest’s entry on “Blues in Hoss’s Flat,” and there’s good tenor, too, by Eric Dixon on “Splanky.” Al Grey shines on “Good Time Blues” and “I Needs to Bee’d With.” Two long jam sessions at Monterey in 1975 and 1977 are notable for solos by Basie, Johnny Griffin, Zoot Sims, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter and Vic Dickenson, the superb support on the second session by Ray Brown and drummer Jimmie Smith being particularly commendable.

Disc two consists of studio-recorded small groups whose work varies considerably in quality, while permitting more opportunity to hear the leader’s piano. An unpretentious quartet date with Zoot Sims is pleasingly spirited, and two of the bigger groups offer rewarding glimpses of Clark Terry and Lockjaw Davis.

The third disc is entirely by the big band (in studio) playing new arrangements by Sam Nestico and Bill Holman, plus remakes of several earlier successes. The title of one Nestico original, “The Blues Machine,” is ominous, and much of the music is bland, although the performance level is usually high. Solo highspots, such as they are, are provided by Forrest, Dixon, Grey, Booty Wood, Sonny Cohn, Danny Turner, Sweets Edison and The Boss.

The last disc has Basie & Co. backing singers: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Bill Caffey, Cleanhead Vinson and, for eight titles, the great Koe Turner. It’s amusing to hear Turner repeating the four syllables of “Flip, Flop and Fly” in K.C. riff fashion. Basie’s intro and solo chorus on this are perfectly in sync. Turner also scores on a wonderful “T.V. Momma.” Caffey emulates Joe Williams on two of his originals with moderate success, but Vinson gives Turner real competition on three songs and backs him with stirring alto sax on two others. La Vaughan’s wordless vocalizing on “Lena and Lenny” is intriguing, and Ella does three songs with arrangements by Benny Carter, including his “My Kind of Trouble Is You.”

In the 32-page booklet, Benny Green writes knowingly of Basie’s piannying: “Everyone in the orchestra has imbibed the precepts of the modern style-everyone but Basie, who pecks his way through the same sequences he was using 40 years before. It is as though the upheavals of bebop had never happened. Progressive darlings had come and gone, but you will find no sign of any of this in Basie’s jazz.” True enough, but it makes it harder to understand why Milt Jackson and J.J. Johnson were introduced on several tracks. Maybe the age of celebrity transplants began sooner than we thought? -Stanley Dance