Great, historically important music in poor display
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In the late 30's and early 40's, Count Basie had the greatest swing band in history (unless you count Duke Ellington's band at the time, which aspired to much more than swing). During that time, he made his first and best recordings with Decca and Columbia. Personally, I prefer the Decca recordings, which are available in the definitive Basie set, "The Complete Decca Recordings." When he started recording for Columbia after his Decca contract expired, some of the band's trademark sounds were becoming dangerously close to cliches, but the music they made was still incredible. It was impossible for a band like Basie's to make anything bad, but I don't want to give the impression that the music was second-rate. As one can see from this compilation, "The Essential Basie Vol. I," cuts like "Taxi War Dance" and "Oh Lady Be Good" are some of the absolute best. Lester Young himself was simply stunning, playing some of his most beautiful solos, particularly on "Oh Lady Be Good," a recording that was actually made before the band's tenure at Decca. Lester's recording debut on that track is possibly one of the greatest in history, and some consider his solo on it to be his best. Despite the high quality of music, this CD was made in the late 80's, during which Columbia released a well-intentioned but ultimately poor-sounding line of CD's featuring their classic jazz catalog. The sound is so muted, so weedy, so raspy that it sounds like an old fifth-generation cassette copy found in someone's old car. One obvious culprit is the use of noise reduction processing that sucked the life out of these recordings, compressing them into middle range. However, I get the feeling that inferior source materials were used as well (which was the case with other Columbia CD's of the time). What's really frustrating is how bad this stuff sounds compared to "The Complete Decca Recordings." Go ahead and compare the sounds for both CD's. The Decca material was recorded between 1937-1939, so how can it possibly sound so much worse than this CD, which for the most part was recorded soon afterwards? As a less than ideal alternative, I suggest seeking out "The Columbia Recordings," a two CD set by the independent, European label Definitive Records. It's an unauthorized release, so much of the source material isn't the absolute best. However, even with that working against them, the music has been carefully restored and remastered with warm, full 24-bit sound, putting "The Essential Basie" CD's to shame. Columbia has it in them to top it, but they haven't given any indication that they'll try anytime soon."
Part of any complete collection
Benj Thomas | 08/15/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"so many wonderful cuts on this -- TAxi War Dance, Jump for Me, Pound Cake, Miss Thing. Young is astounding, and the ensemble band wonderful."