Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Count Basie: The Best of Early Basie [Decca, 1996]
It was the sure shots of the Basie Ken Burns Jazz that enabled me to go back and hear this 1996 budget item. Late Basie is as springy as brass plush gets. But though Orrin Keepnews's big-band focus is purist--this would still have been a unified record if he'd made room for Helen Humes pop and gone out on a terse piano feature like "Hey Lawdy Mama"--jazzbos don't divide Basie into Old and New Testament just because he's a god. Not all 21 tunes here are as indelible as "One O'Clock Jump." But most are close enough, and deliver the prime pleasures of Basie at his most original: Bill's uncannily understated theme, Lester's insouciant honk, and a bandleader's dozen of superb musicians in the service of volume and beat. True, amplifiers soon achieved a similar effect with less fuss. But the amplifier has never been a solo instrument. A