Volume 16 in the Classics Artie Shaw chronology covers a time line from January 30 1951 to March of 1954, combining ten of his excellent latter-day Gramercy Five recordings with 11 performances by what is now recognized as his last big band. The ensembles used on the sessions that took place in July of 1953 were positively gargantuan, with the group that was squeezed into the studio on July 2 weighing in as Brobdingnagian: 20 pieces + 17 string players = 37 musicians, a jazz orchestra monstrous enough to have handled one of Stan Kenton's Innovations charts, although the arrangements used here were so sugary as to suggest instead a Jackie Gleason midnight cocktail lounge set. Although those who suffer from an allergy to string ensembles might balk at the prospect, Shaw's inspired clarinet technique transforms even the sweetest of these marzipans into an intoxicating daydream of Cinemascopic proportions. The Gramercy Five sides are exceptionally satisfying, with attractive vocals by June Hutton, a mature Connee Boswell and sensuous Trudy Richards, who seems to have modeled her singing style after Dinah Washington. Of the three quintets heard in this part of the chronology, the one Shaw led during September 1953 and again in early 1954 was a particularly fine unit composed of pianist Hank Jones, vibraphonist Joe Roland, guitarist Tal Farlow, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Irv Kluger, who got to show off during the "Stop and Go Mambo." The nearly nine minute "Sequence in B Flat" is a full-fledged exercise in modern bop. Altogether a fascinating segment of Artie Shaw's late period, this compilation features the last of his Decca recordings, a transitional date for the tiny Bell record label, and the first of Shaw's wonderful collaborations with producer Norman Granz.
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