Count Basie - The Atomic Mr Basie ***

Jazz Track 955| Count Basie (p), Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Snooky Young, Wendell Culley (t), Henry Coker, Al Grey, Benny Powell (tb), Marshal Royal (clt, as), Frank Wess (as, ts, fl), Frank Foster, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Billy Mitchell (ts), Charlie Fowlkes (bar s), Freddie Green (g), Eddie Jones (b), Sonny Payne (d) and Joe Williams (v). Rec. 21-22 October 1957, 4 March and 23 June 1958

Basie’s great career-reviving 1957 album, the finest achievement of his dynamic, “modern” sound-boasting New Testament big band, is a seemingly never-ending and ever-expanding story in the era of CD reissues. The LP, featuring 11 tracks largely written and entirely arranged by the great Neal Hefti, was originally released on the infamous Morris Levy’s Roulette Records label. In the early 1990s that epoch-defining set was reissued with five out-takes tacked on from the same sessions, but this time showcasing the capable arranging skills of Jimmy Mundy. In all other respects, though, the composition of the band was unchanged: which is important because ‘Lockjaw’ Davis’ improvisations are crucial in adding a little splintering volatility to the otherwise sturdily muscular, well-marshalled sound honed by Hefti. This non-Roulette/EMI 2009 reissue amplifies the material, but in some respects dilutes the hermetic magic of the previous version: gone are two alternate versions of ‘Sleeper’s Serenade’ and ‘The Late, Late Show’ from the October 1957 sessions, and in come eight vocalheavy cuts from the following year, when the band found itself minus the mercurial genius of Davis. Six of these numbers are from a live TV performance – the playing and recording quality are both pretty good, but hardly of a piece with the accompanying studio material. Robert Shore

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