Get this: four intimate Count Basie small band swing dates issued together for the first time on compact disc. This combines three classic Commodore sessions with a potent Keynote blowout. The Kansas City Five was Count Basie's rhythm section (without Basie) in back of Buck Clayton's trumpet. The perfect ease of "Laughing at Life," the hypnotic honesty of "Love Me or Leave Me" and "Good Morning Blues," all are strikingly enhanced by the intricacies of Eddie Durham's electrically amplified guitar. This was a technological innovation back in 1938. Now, simply add Lester Young and you have the Kansas City Six. Young (aka "Pres") uses both the tenor sax and his metal clarinet, grooving beautifully with Buck and the rhythm guys. This is one of the most cheerful sessions that Young would ever participate in. He blows tenor on "Way Down Yonder" and clarinet throughout "Countless Blues," a stomp built around Durham's twangy guitar. "Them There Eyes" is the only known recorded vocal by rhythm guitarist Freddie Green. "I Want a Little Girl" is nice and easy. The broodingly mysterious slow drag "Pagin' the Devil" puts bassist Walter Page, former leader of a touring band called Walter Page's Blue Devils, right down in front. After all this talk about Count Basie, it's nice to hear him sitting in on a 1944 Keynote date. Since he was signed to Columbia Records at the time, the pianist was listed on this session as "Prince Charming." Dicky Wells contributed the "After Theatre Jump," a very simple bounce formula expanded into nearly five minutes of relaxed improvising. Pres laconically rolls out one private joke after another, safe and comfortable among trusted friends. Buck Clayton devised the remaining three pieces worked up by this band on that day, apparently conceiving each formula on the spot. "Six Cats and a Prince" comes across almost like a show tune. Much of "Lester Leaps Again" consists of playful interaction between Count Basie and Lester Young. "Destination K.C." is the hot jam, with Pres, Dicky and Buck all in a lather. You know how Lester Young liked to rewrite standard melodies, basing his original vamps on existing chord progressions? That's exactly what the Kansas City Six did with "Three Little Words" on the Commodore session of March 28, 1944. The pop song suddenly becomes a midnight buggy ride. Pianist Joe Bushkin wrote "Jo-Jo," based on a riff so simple that the entire band could barbecue without having to worry about busting their chops. "I Got Rhythm" is spiced with wild solos, Pres smoking, Buck beaming and Dicky emphatically bleating through the slip horn. "Four O'Clock Drag" lives as a glowing example of Lester's incredible ability to play the blues. Two years later he would pick up where this leaves off with his own blues masterpiece, "Back to the Land," in the company of drummer Buddy Rich and pianist Nat King Cole. But that's another story altogether.
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