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Unashamed purveyor of
big band excitement

The title of this album is no hype. Bellson could indeed play at breakneck speed, as you'll see on this mid-career album

Louie Bellson: 150 MPH
Concord Jazz
Music Gallery India Pvt Ltd,
House of Lords, No 8,
St Mark's Road,
Bangalore-560 001
Rs 600

Many great swing musicians survived the be-bop revolution to adapt to the new conditions (smaller groups, more stress on improvisation) and keep a newer, more modern and artistically serious form of swing alive. A handful, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie, did so with big bands and didn't really need to adapt, having always been mindful of the place of improvisation without overstressing it. Louie Bellson was different. He became a bandleader in the '50s and his music has always been big band swing.

Perhaps his work with Basie and Ellington, the latter just before he took off on his own, has something to do with it. However that may be, for nearly half a century he has run a swing big band unashamedly. For me, while the real King of Swing was Count Basie (and not Benny Goodman), the current monarch -- even if this monarchy has lost primacy in modern jazz -- is Bellson.

We find him here about halfway through his bandleading career (mid-1974) with a 19-strong band. Although obviously it doesn't have room for everyone to improvise, the solos do fly as fast and furious as the music does. The title of the album is no hype, for Bellson has always been known for his love of breakneck-speed music. The only slow piece here, the romantic Love dreams with a tenor sax solo by Pete Christlieb, seems intended make listeners catch their breath before the closing Inferno revives the hectic pace.

As a drummer-bandleader, Bellson naturally takes more solos than most other drummers would. He does so on Inferno, the opening number Louie rides again, and Time check, always using the opportunity to throw in an interesting variety of percussive sounds and, often, changes of pace or rhythm.

Among the other soloists on the album are Pete Christlieb and Don Menza on tenor sax, Dick Spencer on alto sax, Bobby Shew, Conte Candoli and Harry "Sweets" Edison (a Basie band veteran) on trumpet/ flugelhorn, Frank Rosolino on trombone, Ross Tompkins on piano and Mundell Lowe on guitar. The number of soloists affords scope to vary sound textures within tracks and between different tracks. Especially notable are the contrating tenor sax styles of Menza and Christlieb soloing one after another on Time check. Even more notable are Candoli and Edison on open and muted trumpets respectively on Spacin' home. All in all, this is a successful effort to revive the excitement of fast big band music in a modern context.


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