Count Basie Orchestra - Basie Is Back

Count Basie Orchestra
Basie Is Back


First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2007, Volume 14, #11

Written by John Metzger

Mon November 12, 2007, 06:40 AM CST


It might seem strange that the Count Basie Orchestra not only has continued to tour and record but also has received a wealth of attention and numerous accolades long after its leader left this mortal plane. Almost immediately following Count Basie’s passing, however, its members opted to remain together, keeping his spirit and his music alive. Based upon the material featured on its latest endeavor Basie Is Back, the latest incarnation of the group, which currently is under the direction of trombonist Bill Hughes, just may be the best yet. The reinvigorated outfit certainly compares favorably with the Fred Foster-led group that snatched a pair of Grammy Awards, and the subtle twists that Hughes and his assembled entourage provide to the material make the case that the collective is more than just a tribute band.

Recorded in October 2005 at the Denryoku Hall in Sendai, Japan, Basie Is Back crackles with energy, and it serves as a bridge that connects the past with the present. Although the Count Basie Orchestra tackles material that easily could be considered overly familiar and beaten down by the passage of time — such as Duke Ellington’s In a Mellow Tone, Freddie Green’s Corner Pocket, and the seminal classics April in Paris and Jumpin’ at the Woodside — the ensemble unexpectedly succeeds in keeping the music sounding fresh, vibrant, and alive. Melba Joyce joins the outfit on a pair of songs (Body & Soul and Lover Come Back to Me), and she lends the tunes a mournful, pleading air by wringing heartache from every lyric she delivers.

Still, Hughes’ devotion to extending the legacy of the Count Basie Orchestra and his deftly crafted arrangements are what give Basie Is Back its focus and its intensity. The scores are, of course, tightly scripted, but within their elegant, classical structures, the musicians have plenty of room to maneuver. On tunes such as Foster’s Discommotion, the Count Basie Orchestra perfectly captures the bustle and excitement city life, yet it is equally comfortable settling into the gentle gracefulness of Harry Carney’s We’re in Love Again. Throughout Basie Is Back, the octet of trumpets and trombones add plenty of spice and bite, while the quintet of saxophones swings with giddy joyfulness. It’s impossible not to miss the attitude and swagger of early rock ’n‘ roll that springs through Segue in "C" and Blues in Hoss’ Flat, and when drummer Butch Miles brings Whirly-Bird to a rousing conclusion, the results are filled with both raw power and playful levity. In the end, it is apparent that Basie Is Back isn’t meant to compete with or replace any of the music that Count Basie made. Rather, it is designed to meet the simple and noble goal of keeping his memory burning brightly for a new generation of fans. starstarstar ½

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2007 The Music Box