Lenny Bruce was a devoted fan of the Artie Shaw Gramercy Five. He also went out of his way to make fun of Georgia Gibbs, the vocalist on Artie Shaw's January 20, 1942 recording of "Absent-Minded Moon." Lenny was playing up his preference for the hipper side of Shaw, as demonstrated on "Hindustan" and every track recorded at the session which took place the following day. These remarkable sides, which sound better every time they are played back, were the last studio recordings Shaw would make before joining the navy. Composer and arranger Paul Jordan crafted a number of transitionally modern-sounding charts for this band. There are several heavies in the lineup: Dave Tough and Johnny Guarnieri worked well together under any circumstances. Georgie Auld, Ray Conniff and Max Kaminsky were fortunate to be blowing their horns alongside Hot Lips Page, a seasoned trumpeter who conveyed the lyrical potency of ten ordinary musicians. The string section provides just the right amount of lilt without injecting too much fluff. There is a gorgeous rendition of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," with Shaw's clarinet in full blue cry and a gutsy vocal by Page. The Shaw discography, interrupted by a world war, resumes nearly three years later with Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's famous "Accentuate the Positive." Vocalist Imogene Lynn, dutifully intoning Mercer's imitation Afro-American revival lyrics, sounds a bit affected after the soulful gravity of Hot Lips Page. But it is important to place this popular hit record within historical context. By November of 1944 America needed a straight shot of optimism, and this catchy, morale-boosting number did more for the war against fascism than any number of giddy or poker-faced exercises in rhetorical patriotism. This is Artie Shaw & His Orchestra at their finest. Roy Eldridge gave the band extra punch, and the records he made with Shaw are uniformly solid, melodious and attractive. Billie Holiday, who had worked with Shaw in 1938, is invoked in Jimmy Mundy's "Lady Day." Poetically, its chord progressions seem to reference Billie's difficult life and maybe even the abusive racism she encountered while touring with Shaw at a time when black women simply did not appear with white bands. Buster Harding's "Little Jazz" is the definitive portrait of Eldridge. "Summertime" is exceptionally fine, with magical tonalities provided by Dodo Marmarosa and Barney Kessel. This special chemistry is all the more evident on two sides by the Gramercy Five. Certainly one of the best Artie Shaw reissues, and well-worth seeking out.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf