It is amazing that these marvellous performances have remained on a shelf since 1954 when they were made. They leave me in no doubt that Artie Shaw retired from playing when he was at the height of his ability. Artie himself claims that he was just fed up with always having to play the same tunes to satisfy the public, but I suspect that being the complete deal on clarinet left him with nowhere to go.
These two CDs go to prove just what a wonderful musician he was. His technique on the clarinet may have been equalled since that time, but never bettered. Both records have the superb Hank Jones on piano, certainly one of the very best that the jazz world has produced and he is still working! He plays with both bands, as do Irv Kluger and Tommy Potter. The second set of recordings does not have a vibes player, and Joe Puma replaces Tal Farlow.
Artie Shaw’s tone on his instrument is perfection and his command of the difficult high register is nothing short of miraculous, the tone even throughout. This is coupled with a seemingly endless flow of ideas, which make these tracks so attractive to the listener. Both guitarists blend into the group splendidly as does vibes player Joe Roland. The tunes are mostly the great standards with a few originals thrown in for good measure. The playing throughout is nicely accessible for any listener and the arrangements, which were probably mostly "head" arrangements, neat and well executed.
The sleeve notes are most interesting because they are based on a conversation between Artie and Dan Morgenstern who compiled them. Artie appears to have fully cooperated with the publication of these records after they had lain on his office shelf for over 40 years. So it is obvious that, whilst he no longer wants to play the clarinet any more, he still cares sufficiently about his music to present it in the best possible way.
There are eight Shaw originals on these two CDs and each one is a great jazz vehicle: quite something for a man who was never feted for his compositions. His playing on the I Got Rhythm-inspired The Chaser is the work of a musical giant, which of course he was!
Congratulations to Nimbus records for bringing this very satisfying music to our turntables. It is a shame we had to wait so long to hear it!
Don Mather, Musicweb-international.com