In 1964, Count Basie handed the reins of his band over to composer and arranger Billy Byers, purportedly to modernize his sound to the times. More accurately, Byers energized the band with his bright charts loaded with counterpointed exchanges and interplay, plus a depth and density the Basie band had long since relinquished to other similarly sized groups. With stellar personnel -- including Eric Dixon, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Marshall Royal, Al Aarons, and Don Rader -- Byers and Basie stoked the coals of the band with some red hot bop and intricate charts atypical to the laid-back approach that always served the band and its fans well. The upbeat tracks, the roaring "Basie Land," hard charging "Rabble Rouser" and the tumbling melody of "Gymnastics" are particularly noticeable, as the horns jump in and out of unison, shout amongst themselves, and stress the quite capable, energetic musicianship the band always sported, but had somewhat suppressed. "Big Brother" and "Instant Blues" are typical, laid-back Basie style pronouncements in moderate or midtempo, but the horns still proclaim their innocence in a louder mindset. A feature for the underrated alto saxophonist Marshall Royal during the perfectly titled, slow slung "Wanderlust" has his style approaching the vibrato shaded Johnny Hodges, while the delicate "Count Me In" parallels Foster's epic ballad "Shiny Stockings" in its basic melodic precept, accented by Basie's chiming piano chords. The world class Wess on flute takes the lead for the chugging along blues "Sassy," dedicated to Sarah Vaughan, the piece again saturated with call and response, while Wess, Foster, and Dixon gang up on flutes for "Yuriko" as Basie's tinkling piano makes the impatient horns blurt out uncontrollably on occasion to get their two cents in. The set concludes with perhaps one of Basie's all-time signature tunes as contributed by Byers with "Doodle-Oodle," a famous hot bop, hummable or whistleable melody that can easily be copied while walking down the street. Byers added something different to this version of the Count Basie Orchestra, and only fans can be the ultimate judge of whether it was for the best. Basie Land is certainly quite a substantive and compelling big-band jazz effort from A to Z.
Basie Land Review
by Michael G. Nastos