Count Basie and His Orchestra Kansas City Suite: The Music of Benny Carter
Duke Ellington Such Sweet Thunder
f you love big-band jazz, it doesnt get any better than the work of the two best bands to ever grace a stage: the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras. These two wonderful LPs give insight into what made these two bands so great and so different. The Basie band was all about teamwork. Basie had some well-known musicians in his ensemble, including at various times Lester Young, Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, but each number was tailored to showcase the group as a whole at the expense of the spotlight falling on any one member. The Ellington band, on the other hand, while also full of top-flight talent -- Johnny Hodges on sax, Clark Terry on trumpet and Billy Strayhorn on piano, to name a few of the notables -- performed songs with a particular performer in mind, hence the emphasis Ellington placed on his soloists. These two albums also share the use of a unifying theme. In the case of the Basie LP, its a full program of music from composer, arranger and musician Benny Carter, each number an homage in style and substance to the Kansas City Count Basie knew. In the case of the Ellington LP, its the works of William Shakespeare.
Recorded for two different labels -- specialist Roulette for the Basie LP and music giant Columbia for the Ellington -- at two different times, in stereo for the Basie and mono for the Ellington, the LPs sound remarkably similar. Both present a complete sonic picture instead of emphasizing one aspect. You get the feel of being in an audience listening to these two great bands, a panorama of music in front of you even in mono. No mushy, sloppy, abstract sound here -- just a wide stage with each player performing in his own space but still a part of the whole. Both LPs sound a bit soft at the extremes, but in the midrange they explode with texture and tone, the Basie LP a bit more so than the Ellington.
I dont have an original of the Ellington LP, but my copy of the Basie tells me that despite the aging of the tapes, Sean Magee did a masterful job remastering this music for Pure Pleasure. The pressings are über quiet, the deep, black background enhancing the music's low-level detail and dynamics.
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