"This CD is a must for Big Band fans..."
After the release of the film The Benny Goodman Story in 1956, there was a temporary resurgence of interest in Big Band music and Benny received many invitations to tour again with his Big Band. He had of course worked regularly with small groups up to that time, but this was for Benny a great opportunity, because most of the other Big Bands had folded and he was able to secure the services of the very best musicians around. This set of recordings from the Yale University Archives amply demonstrates what they achieved.
Many things had improved since the 1930s' recordings we are all used to. The recording techniques are better and the rhythm sections really swing, as opposed to the plodding they did on the earlier recordings. The instruments were better and the musicians themselves more disciplined and experienced. Zoot Sims, for example, provides some really classy tenor solos and all the various pianists are first class. Sir Roland Hanna, Russ Freeman, John Bunch and Pete Jolly are all great soloists as well as wonderful accompanists. It does not stop there however. The excellent sleeve-notes by Loren Schoenburg provide not only useful background to the music, but very detailed personnel lists for each session. They read like a "Who's Who" of the best in the business!
On CD1 there are vocals by Jimmy Rushing of Count Basie fame and Ethel Ennis. Both give first-class performances. There also some fine baritone solos from Gene Allen, but just as you would expect, it is the leader who shades it every time, Benny’s gift for improvisation and his beautiful tone are a joy to listen to. Both Stompin’ at the Savoy and Flying Home have fine solos from Zoot, who is instantly recognisable.
Ethel Ennis is featured on a Gil Evans arrangement of This is My Lucky Day and it was nice to hear the band play a revised version of Mary Lou Williams’s chart of Roll ‘Em. This version is in two parts: the first being the instrumental version and the second featuring vocalist Jimmy Rushing. It is a classic "Mr Five by Five" performance.
CD2 contains material recorded between 1958 and 1964, most of it not from the classic Goodman library. It is likely that a lot of this music was not played again by the band, because audiences wanted to hear all the classic BG charts, which seems a shame because it is very enjoyable. Bob Wilber solos on tenor on some of these tracks, which is unusual in itself because he usually played alto as well as being an excellent clarinettist.
BG’s playing on Autumn Nocturne is exceptional, even for a master of the instrument.
What a Difference a Day Makes has a well-constructed tenor solo from Bob Wilber, as well as some more amazing clarinet work from the leader, whose even tone over the whole range of the instrument is amazing.
Vocalist Martha Tilton is featured on tracks 5 and 8. She had sung with the band 20 years earlier, but gave it up to raise a family. She sounds better than ever! The Earl brings another great talent to the piano stool: the legendary Hank Jones, who more than does justice to this Mel Powell original.
The sleeve-note tells us that track 9 was an impromptu session, which worked very well. John Bunch on piano and Victor Feldman on vibes give the leader excellent support.
Swift as the Wind, a Tadd Dameron chart, was a rather unusual piece of music for BG’s band to play, being bebop-inspired, but with Phil Woods, Joe Newman and Zoot around, I suppose it had to work out well!
A Room Without Windows is a very pleasant arrangement, which includes another great BG solo, with some nice riffs and phrases from the band in the background. Benny Rides Again is an Eddie Sauter composition and this performance benefits from the presence of Shelly Manne, one of the most tasteful and swinging of drummers the jazz world has ever known.
This CD is a must for Big Band fans because it shows just how great the latter-day BG bands were and that his own virtuosity was undiminished.
Don Mather, Musicweb-international.com
These sides span the years 1957-64 but concentrate in particular on 1957 and 1958. They feature recordings made by some top flight players and in amongst them are some real high flyers. Buster Cooper, Herb Geller, Bob Wilber, Pepper Adams, Milt Hinton and Shelley Manne for example are in one of the November 1958 bands and the trumpet section of the July 1958 band makes one’s eyes pop so stellar is the line-up: Billy Butterfield, Taft Jordan and Buck Clayton – which is pretty nearly my idea of Heaven. Add a rhythm section of Kenny Burrell, Roland Hanna, Henry Grimes and Roy Burnes and you’re not exactly suffering. The varied personnel - from big band to small group is one of the pleasures of this 2 CD set from the Yale University Archives – and when one adds that Zoot Sims is on board and Jimmy Rushing takes some vocal responsibilities then we have a compelling package.
Hanna and Rushing spark On the Sunny Side of the Street with the former’s powerful chording a bonus. Goodman excels in a strong blues chorus on I Want A Little Girl. Rushing duets with fellow vocalist Ethel Ennis on A Fine Romance maybe doffing the hat at Ella and Louis’s similar forays; certainly the medley that Ennis sings later on which includes I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, I Hadn't Anyone Till You, and I've Got You Under My Skin is very reminiscent of Fitzgerald. Aficionados might like to note that This is My Lucky Day is a Gil Evans arrangement. The nonet of which Sims is part – so too are Gene Allen, Willie Dennis et al – is unusual in Goodman’s discography but provides plenty of pleasures from leader and sidemen.
The big band on the second disc is cut from a somewhat different cloth – it’s more steeped in bop for one thing. It’s a shame that the terrific Russ Freeman’s piano solo is so distant in the mix on Happy Session Blues but we can enjoy the very different approach from the leader here – his trills and phrasing offer a rather different stylistic approach from the days of the King of Swing. Another of the advantages of these tracks is the bristling trumpet playing of Allen Smith. Martha Tilton and Mitzi Cottle are two vocalists who shine in this second disc, though the discography doesn’t mention them – fortunately Loren Schoenberg’s notes do.
I wish the Tilton tracks had been in order and the layout a bit clearer; some might not like the way the tracks jump around bisecting small and big groups in something of a blancmange effect. The music’s good though – not vintage but questing, not stuck in a rut.