"With Powell on board things are terrific."
Volume 3 of the Yale University Archives appears newly minted on Nimbus courtesy of MusicMasters' back catalogue. It preserves small band concerts at the Rainbow Grill in 1966 and 1967 and, on disc two, a 1954 set live at Basin Street.
The tunes won't rock the boat, as they're all very familiar. In fact the very unadventurousness of them casts an almost hypnotic spell - contrast what Goodman's coeval Artie Shaw was doing at the time of the Basin Street gig and you'll understand how mired the King of Swing was in the good old good ones. The 1966 set strikes me as dull. The band is so-so, and even with Joe Newman and Zoot Sims things never really take flight. Newman has a feature on There is No Greater Love and he plays well and so does Sims in his feature, Come rain or come shine, which is Blues and Lester Young drenched. And the leader stretches out purposefully on Oh Lady be good! and indeed he plays marvellously here. Otherwise, a mixed bag.
The set from the following year is much better. Unlikely though it seems Herbie Hancock was pianist, depping for Hank Jones, and joining Goodman in the front line was the eloquent trumpeter Doc Cheatham. The rhythm section is much more fluent and advanced even if Hancock's harmonies sometimes jar when set behind the leader's playing. Still, fans of Cheatham can hear his pumped up on the beat soloing on Sweet Georgia Brown where Goodman himself is inspired to Frank Teschmacher-like flights of excitement and timbre shading. Annette Saunders takes a couple of competent vocals. The only demerit is the balance; the drums of Morey Feld are badly over-recorded.
The Basin Street evening dived between the trio - Goodman, Mel Powell and Morey Feld - and the rest of the band which then included Charlie Shavers. With Powell on board things are terrific. His playing flits between the shade of Teddy Wilson and those ravishing, piquant harmonies that were so challenging and classically infused; a jazz-classicist such as Goodman could not but be inspired by the harmonic directions in which he was being led by Powell. Of course the trio also summons up the Goodman-Wilson-Krupa threesome but there's a sense of vitality and also humour that is pleasing; the subtlety of such playing should never be underestimated. Nor too those naughty moments when Powell unleashes little cameos of Erroll Garner or Fats Waller in his playing. Shavers appears briefly but always entertainingly. Israel Crosby is the excellent bass player.
The MusicMasters notes should have been updated. Neophytes would otherwise be startled to read that Doc Cheatham (b.1905) is still pumping it out at one hundred and four. Alas he died in 1997. There are ups and downs in these sets. Demerits are hackneyed old tunes; pluses are the pianists and trumpeters - and Goodman himself.
Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb-international.com