Various Artists

Big Bands Uptown (1931-1940)

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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook

After developing the framework for the big band era as an arranger in the Fletcher Henderson band and McKinney's Cotton Pickers, alto saxophonist Don Redman spent the 1930s leading a stellar band of his own. On this fine overview of some of the more low-profile big bands of the decade, Redman and company are heard on four numbers from 1931, made memorable by the leaders fine arrangements and spoken commentary. Along with Henry "Red" Allen's incredible trumpet work and Bennie Morton's irrepressible trombone interjections, other highlights include the still astonishing and modern sounding "Chant of the Weed" and the vaudeville boogie number "Shakin' that African." Even less well known was the band of Claude Hopkins. After a stint as Josephine Baker's musical director in Paris, Hopkins led a big band during the '30s which included top soloists like clarinetist Edmund Hall, trumpeter Olvie Olsten, and trombonist Fernando Arbello. While not as adventurous as Redman, Hopkins does come up with some impressively streamlined arrangements chock full of solo delights. Finishing up the program is the best known of the three band leaders here, Benny Carter. Carter leads a fine band on four of his own compositions featuring fetching arrangements and strong solos by the likes of trumpeter Shad Collins, trombonist Sandy Williams, and pianist Sonny White. A great sampler of some of the swing era's most talented and overlooked band leaders.