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23 February 2000

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A patchy swing album

Count, Dizzy, even Bird perhaps -- all of them coexist in an album that botches up track names

The Best of Big Band Swing
Times Music
Rs 100

Many recently released albums have been from the swing age of jazz, while other compilations have contained a liberal helping of swing alongside more modern jazz. I've praised these classics fulsomely; you can't be less than fulsome when talking about Ellington and Basie. As if to redress the balance, along comes an album that left a sour taste in the mouth.

How can any album whose Side B starts with Count Basie's Jumpin' at the Woodside disappoint? Here's the answer: advertise Duke Ellington's Rockin' in Rhythm as the first track on Side A and put in some impostor in its place. I can't say what it is, but it's neither Duke Ellington nor Rockin' in Rhythm. From its sound, the outfit is probably the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a white band who made the first recording claiming to be jazz but it wasn't. The second track (supposedly Jimmy Lunceford's Le Jazz Hot, but a vocal starting with something about two cats) too is probably an impostor, although I wouldn't swear it.

There's a rather disproportionate dose of non-jazz bands on this album, notably Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, as is inevitable in any selection that seems to include all swing in jazz and dips heavily into the popular white bands of the time. To balance that, I must clarify that many good swing jazz bands led by whites are also present, notably those of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Both have great clarinet solos from their leaders, and the latter also has a brilliant trumpet solo besides.

On the plus side, there's plenty of good stuff, including some be-bop soloing by Dizzy Gillespie in his Our Delight and what sounds a lot like a Gillespie solo on trumpet in Boyd Raeburn's March of the Boyds. The blues pianist Jay McShann's Sepian bounce too is a delight, with solos from him and an altoist who could easily be the greatest of them all, Charlie ("Bird") Parker. The other really high points for my money are Roy Eldridge's Little Jazz Boogie and Lionel Hampton's Loose Wig, the latter for showcasing the first great exponent of the vibraphone and the former a good example of the great trumpeter to whom Gillespie acknowledged a debt.


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