Count Basie & His Atomic Band: Complete Live At The Crescendo 1958

Four-CD set confirms the power of the Basie formula - its deceptive simplicity, its heat piled on heat and its life-affirming spirit

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A superlative joy, go and buy it. Seven words falls well short of the review limit, but if you’re looking for a recommendation free of the analysis provided by jazz hacks then there you have it.

Comparing this band with the one that Basie led in the late 1930s and early 1940s seems a bit irrelevant, not least because Basie and his cohorts timelessly fashioned a strain of jazz that balanced elements formal and informal, precise yet loose, and in 1958 the band was positively shouting even at the elementary level of quiet/loud dynamics, all of them honed but not clinical or machine-tooled, and affirmative of life and spirit.

Take, for example, the only reading of Neal Hefti’s Flight Of The Foo Birds in this set (on the first disc) which has the four-piece rhythm section generating light and air before the rest of the band kicks in with section work that fits together like a jigsaw and solo work that generates heat on top of heat.

Four years later (as exemplified by the On My Way & Shoutin’ Again album on Verve from 1962) an all-Hefti programme was no sweat, but here his compositions feature alongside band-generated items like Joe Newman’s The Midgets, which serves as a vehicle for solos from the composer, who incidentally here shows himself to be almost as adept as Clark Terry when it comes to self-starting a solo, and Frank Wess on flute, who makes this instrument fit proceedings like a bespoke suit.

Thad Jones’s The Deacon gives Basie the chance to demonstrate his mastery of understatement, a craft which has become only rarer with the passing of time and the evolution of jazz. Again the section work is precise yet effortless to the point where some listeners might carp over how easy it all sounds. I’m not one of them, not least because I’m a firm believer in the idea that simple isn’t easy.

Almost another 350 words have been added to those seven above, so let’s leave it here (most positively) but not before mentioning that for this reviewer this set will leave a lasting impression, which is no small feat in this culturally superficial yet saturated age.

On a practical note, the last five tracks on the fifth disc are bonus tracks from a different location and date (as noted below) and are not numbered as per other versions of the same titles.

Discography
CD1: Moten Swing #1; Cute #1; Sweetie Cakes; Indian Summer; Jumpin’ At The Woodside #1; Plymouth Rock #1; Flight Of The Foo Birds; Li’l Darlin’ #1; Low Life; Whirly-Bird #1; Swingin’ The Blues; Blue On Blue #1; No Moon At All; Well, All Right, Okay, You Win; Fancy Meeting You; Slats; H.R.H. (Her Royal Highness); Duet; Teddy The Toad #1 (77.19)
CD2: Smack Dab In The Middle; Pensive Miss; One O’Clock Jump #1; Counting The Blues; Lullaby Of Birdland; I’ve Got A Girl; You’re A Memory; Scoot; Who, Me?; The Kid From Red Bank #1; Late Date; Stop, Pretty Baby; Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good To You; Shiny Stockings #1; April In Paris; Blues In Frankie’s Flat; In A Mellow Tone #1; Two Time Lover; Fantail; Hallelujah, I Love Her So (74.09)
CD3: Corner Pocket #1; My Baby Upsets Me; Cherry Point; Every Day; How High The Moon #1; Five O’Clock In The Morning; Blue On Blue #2; The Comeback; Whirly-Bird #2; Thou Swell; Teach Me Tonight; Moten Swing #2; Pigalle Love; One O’Clock Jump #2; G’Wan Away; Yogi (aka Yohl); Bag-A-Bones #1; One O’Clock Jump #3; Spring Is Here #1; Baby, Baby All The Time (70.11)
CD4: Little Pony #1; Ol’ Man River #1; The Midgets; Whirly-Bird #3; Basie-Boogie; The Deacon; Cute #2; Ol’ Man River #2; The Kid From Red Bank #2; Spring Is Here #2; Why Not?; Corner Pocket #2; Little Pony #2; Blee Blop Blues; Bubbles; How High The Moon #2; You’re Not The Kind (76.25)
CD5: Teddy The Toad #2; Jumpin’ At The Woodside #2; Blues Backstage; Peace Pipe; Plymouth Rock #2; Shiny Stockings #2; H.R.H (Her Royal Highness) #2; Bag-A-Bones #2; In A Mellow Tone #2; Whirly-Bird; Cute; Thou Swell; Five O’Clock In The Morning; Blee Blop Blues; One O’Clock Jump (60.03)

Thad Jones, Snooky Young, Wendell Culley, Joe Newman (t); Benny Powell, Henry Coker, Al Grey (tb); Marshall Royal (as, cl); Frank Wess (as, ts, f); Billy Mitchell, Frank Foster (ts); Charlie Fowlkes (bar); Count Basie (p); Freddie Green (g); Eddie Jones (b); Sonny Payne (d); Joe Williams, Sammy Davis Jr. (v). Crescendo Club, Los Angeles, 24 June to 2 July 1958 and elsewhere in Los Angeles, 23 June 1958.
Finger Poppin’ Records 117023