Count Basie

Pop Classics

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This is a bizarre effort, by today's standards -- Count Basie and his band (produced by Teddy Reig and directed by Chico O'Farrill) covering pop tunes, Jimmy Reed blues, Motown hits, Booker T. Jones' instrumentals, and even Chuck Berry songs. Times must have been hard for a band like this in the late '60s, and work is work, one supposes. Still, one also questions whether "Going Out of My Head" is a "pop classic" -- that's a fairly embarrassing effort for a man who wrote great originals or found new approaches to some of the most glorious standards of the '30s and '40s. "Hang on Sloopy" is downright demeaning, even though the players (all uncredited, but presumably the standard Basie lineup of 1968) have some fun with it. "Let the Good Times Roll" does give the group something to stretch out on that they actually seem to like working with, and "Reach Out, I'll Be There" lets them soar while Basie provides his usual minimalist piano foundation. But it's only on about half the numbers here -- "Let the Good Times Roll" and Charles' "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" (with Basie presumably on the organ), Quincy Jones' "In the Heat of the Night," Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City" (where the rhythm section really comes to life), and Booker T. & the MG's "Green Onions" that they really sound like the Basie band should, doing what they do best -- modern swing music, elegant, smooth, and hot enough to simmer without boiling. The virtuosity is here all over, but even the usually tight rhythm section seems compromised on a lot of this. "Memphis Tennessee" would be a joke, but for the elegant little piano break by Basie and superb trumpet solo -- all of it a triumph over adversity.

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