Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Count Basie

  • The Best of Early Basie [Decca, 1996] A
  • America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years [Columbia/Legacy, 2003]

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

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

America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years [Columbia/Legacy, 2003]
Four CDs worth, and especially but not exclusively as it reaches the '50s, it can be sleek and unforgiving. But most of the time it's breathtaking in both ensemble complexity and individual virtuosity--Lester Young! Jo Jones! Billie Holiday!--and the four 1936 small-group recordings that start things swinging are legendary for a reason. Also, it's encyclopedic--two decades of evolution from combo to big band to combo and big band again, with a disc of radio transcriptions. With his minimalist commitment to big beat and constructed song, Basie was a rock and roll guy in his way. After Decca's Best of Early Basie, this. [Recyclables]

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