Keeping a big band together became increasingly challenging during the late 1940s. Stylistic adjustments were crucial as promoters and audiences alike became infatuated with star vocalists, an obsession from which the entertainment industry has yet to recover. Having helped to define big band jazz over the course of his first ten years as a leader, the diminutive pianist from Red Bank, New Jersey continued to modify the sound of his full-sized orchestra with arrangements that were smooth, garish, rowdy or sweet. He also experimented regularly with smaller groups. A pared down ensemble presented as "Count Basie, His Instrumentalists and Rhythm" allowed for intimate interactions between the players that would have been difficult under the influence of big band arrangements. Emmett Berry is sharp as a tack during "Backstage at Stuff's" and Paul Gonsalves rocks hard when necessary but expresses himself most gently during Maceo Pinkard's "Sugar." Ex-Bennie Moten reedman Jack Washington is positively pulverizing when he solos all over the baritone sax during "Lopin''. This tune is also a showcase for percussionist Jo Jones at his very rowdiest. The full-sized big band session of May 22, 1947 had its share of corn, beginning with "The Jungle King," a fairly ponderous incursion into Cab Calloway territory. "Take a Little Off the Top" is an extremely corny barbershop skit, garnished with the appropriate "shave and a haircut -- two bits" lick. Taps Miller scats his way through "I Ain't Mad at You," but by this time we're getting an awful lot of ensemble vocals from the band. It's enough to wear you down. There is a potently cool treatment of Bennie Moten's 1924 hit, "South." Back in 1937, "Blue and Sentimental" was the designated feature ballad for Herschel Evans' Coleman Hawkins-inspired tenor saxophone. Ten years later, the sax serves as a sort of pimp for Bob Bailey's gushy crooning. We do get two blues and two ballads by Jimmy Rushing. Properly wired for sound, Mr. 5 x 5 sounds as though he's enjoying the fact that he no longer has to bellow in order to be heard over a 17-piece band. Even amidst sweetened sips of vintage mood music like Will Hudson's "Sophisticated Swing" and a couple of gruesome heartbreak ballads sung by Jeanne Taylor, some of the material begins to sound downright progressive. "7th Avenue Express" is a typical Buck Clayton pressure cooker, while "Mister Roberts' Roost" rocks at medium hot. "Guest in a Nest" hints at the formula Basie would use so effectively during the next decade: elegant, flashy big band with a decidedly cool aspect that allows for brief understated vamps from the pianist.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf