Benny Goodman

Air Play

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By virtue of both its content and the implication of its title, Air Play is the perfect companion disc to Columbia's double-disc On the Air set. Drawn from the personal collection of producer Bob Thiele, Air Play consists of performances from radio broadcasts dating between December 1936 and 1938, a period in which Goodman and his band were at the pinnacle of their combined popularity and influence; the material includes works performed by full band and also by the Goodman trio and quartet. One instance -- a shortwave broadcast from New York to the BBC -- has Gene Krupa out with the flu and Lionel Hampton sitting in on drums. Krupa is back for the extraordinary quartet performance of "Stompin' at the Savoy," a lean, swinging stripped-down number here. "Shine," which follows, is one of the greatest showcases you'll ever find for Lionel Hampton's vibraphone work, with Goodman and Krupa showing admirable restraint while their bandmate soars. Teddy Wilson also gets his moments, while the full band performances include dates with Harry James still in the trumpet section. But at the center of it all is Goodman's clarinet, which is magical whenever it appears. For contrasts, we get two completely difference performances of "Body and Soul" and "Dinah." This is a different set of radio performances from those included in the On the Air set, but no less valuable musically. The one slight drawback is the sound quality, which does reveal some noise in the sources for these performances (radio transcription discs), but the music and performances are of such uniformly high caliber that this problem can easily be ignored, and even with the occasional surface noise, the digital transfer captures the ambience of these broadcasts and their venues in warm, intimate detail.

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