Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Atomic Mr. Basie

The Atomic Mr. Basie
Roulette SCRP3000
Recorded October 1957

Side 1

1. The Kid From Red Bank
2. Duet
3. After Supper
4. Flight of the Foo Birds
5. Teddy The Toad

Side 2

1. Whirly-Bird
2. Splanky
3. Fantail
4. Lil' Darlin

All compositions NEAL HEFTI
Recording supervision TEDY REIG

Woah! One look at that sleeve, and you know you're in for something big. And that's what you get with this album. While contemporary hard bop could be big, it was often just clever, and that's not always what you want. You're never going to get a sound like this from a quintet, no matter how hard you try. Opener, 'The Kid From Red Bank' is a no-holds-barred big-band-barnstormer, taken at a furious pace, with Basie's piano leading you into a massive horn riff that sounds better the louder you play it. The arrangements are courtesy of Neal Hefti, well known for his work with Basie, but perhaps best known for the 'Batman' theme tune.

Of course, this album's not just about huge horns. Basie must have realised that by 1957, to cut it in jazz he had to take on the boppers at their own game, and he does so with a stunning set of solos from several members of the band (as well as from himself!). Unfortunately the sleeve doesn't list the personnel, but allmusic's review suggests that Thad Jones and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis make stellar contributions on trumpet and sax respectively. This is especially apparent on 'Flight of the Foo Birds', which although involving the big band, is structured not unlike a bop piece with it's simple head line and improvisations.

All the uptempo numbers are electrifying listens, but a fair amount of the album is taken at a gentler pace, such as on tracks like 'After Supper' and 'Splanky'. These tracks showcase the blues-based nature of the writing and give some welcome respite after the breakneck tempos of the faster sections. There's still room for the soloists, though, with the sax solo on 'Splanky' (Davis again?) being particularly effective.

This is one of those albums where there's never a dull moment, helped partly by it's short running time of 32 minutes. There is a CD reissue available titled 'The Complete Atomic Basie' which runs to 16 tracks, and is just a bit too much in one sitting for me, the extra tracks being rather samey and not adding much to the original 9 presented here.

Teddy Reig's production is also worth a mention. The sound throughout is warm and detailed, but at the same time the horn stabs are sharp and clearly defined, lending an excitement to the recording that could be lost in the mud in some contemporary big band sessions. These qualities shine through, even given the surface noise on my review copy. Be sure to listen to 'The Kid From Red Bank' on the radio player for a taste of the excitement that lies within this recording.

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