Count Basie

Basie and Eckstine, Inc.

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When the Count Basie Orchestra consented to team up with vocalist Billy Eckstine, choruses of angels must have shouted hallelujah. The combination of Basie's sweet jazz and Eckstine's low-down blues sensibilities meshed well on this one-shot deal, a program mostly of downtrodden songs perfectly suited for the band and the man. Recorded in 1959 as Eckstine's popularity was fading (thankfully, his voice was not, as he sounds great on this set of 11 well-known classic jazz/blues vehicles). For the simple reason that Eckstine convincingly sings all-time winners like the upbeat yet downer tune "Lonesome Lover Blues," the slow "Jelly Jelly" in a mood both the band and vocalist favor, or the wishful thinking of "I Want a Little Girl," you know all too well the co-leaders have ruefully lived through these situations. "Drifting" and "Song of the Wanderer" are somewhat less credible, but Eckstine's stout voice overcomes all sorrow, strife, and sympathy one can't help but deeply feel. "Trav'lin' All Alone," more than any other track, best expresses how the weariness and grind of being on the road can take its toll on even the sturdiest jazz artist, aspects the public does not see behind the scenes, but are exposed full-bore on-stage. Where most everything on the program is languid and sanguine, the exception is an upbeat take of "Little Mama" in blues shuffle-style, while the comfort blues "Don't Cry Baby" has the horns more loud and pronounced, with Eckstine's voice in a similarly projected vibrato. It would be difficult to fault this masterpiece of an album, refined and classy in every detail, showing the Basie band and the immortal icon Eckstine at their absolute best during the very tail-end of an era when big-band swing was royal, and the vocalist was its king.

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