One of the most glaring gaps in the jazz reissue boom is a thorough chronicle of Billy Eckstine's bop era work with both Earl Hines' group and his own innovative outfits. A veritable workshop for the era's teaming bop talent, Eckstine's big bands captured Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's advances in a swing framework, which provided a challenging yet ultimately perfect setting for the singer's luxurious baritone. So, considering what's to be missed, listeners shouldn't hesitate in checking out this Classics collection of Eckstine's 1944-1945 sides, especially since Savoy's chronicle of the same material is in dire need of an audio upgrade. Effortlessly ranging between ballads, blues, and swingers, Eckstine delivers both hit covers ("Prisoner of Love," "Cottage for Sale") and indelible originals ("I Want to Talk About You," "Blowin' the Blues Away"). And with the likes of Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, and Art Blakey on hand -- not to mention Tadd Dameron and Budd Johnson handling the charts and a young Sarah Vaughan contributing vocals -- the high standards are maintained throughout. A perfect companion collection to both Classics' followup disc of 1946-1947 tracks and Xanadu's roundup of Eckstine sides form the first half of the '40s.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook