By the time Oliver Nelson and his big band had recorded Fantabulous in March of 1964 for Argo, the great composer, saxophonist, conductor, and arranger was a man about town in New York. He had released some truly classic dates of his own as a leader in smaller group forms -- Blues and the Abstract Truth and Full Nelson among them -- and had done arrangement work for everyone from Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Hodges, Nancy Wilson, Frank Wess, King Curtis, Etta Jones, Jimmy Smith, Jack Teagarden, Betty Carter, Billy Taylor, and Gene Ammons, to name more than a few. For Fantabulous, he took his working big band to Chicago for a gig sponsored by Daddy-O-Daylie, a famous local disc jockey. He had also worked with a number of the players on this date before, even recording an earlier version of the tune "Hobo Flats" that opens this set a year before on an album of the same name. Altoist Phil Woods, baritone roarer Jerome Richardson, trumpeters Snooky Young and Art Hoyle, bassist Ben Tucker, and drummer Grady Tate are a few of the names on Fantabulous. Nelson holds down the tenor chair, and Patti Bown is on piano with additional brass and reed players. Another Nelson original, "Post No Bills" features killer alto work from Woods, and a brief but smoking hot baritone break form Richardson on the same cut. This program is compelling in that it provides an excellent meld of all of Nelson's strengths-as an advanced, colorful harmonist who insisted on the hard swinging esthetic, as an excellent tenor saxophonist and a killer conductor. Another highlight is "Daylie's Double," (which bears a similarity to Nat Adderley's "Work Song"") named for the aforementioned DJ, with smoking tenor breaks from Nelson, and big fat soulful chord soloing from Bown. Likewise Billy Taylor's "A Bientot," it opens in true big brass Ellingtonian elegance, and unravels itself as a gorgeous bluesy ballad with echoes of "I Only Have Eyes for You" in its melody. The subtle shades of flute and twinned clarinet are a nice touch before the entire band arrives to carry it out on a big yet tenderly expressive lyric cloud. That said, there isn't a weak moment here, there isn't anything that doesn't captivate, delight, and even astonish, as in the smoking, striated harmonic bop head on "Three Plus One." It's almost amazing it took more than 20 years before this appeared on American shores on CD, but at last, here it is in excellent sound at a budget price as part of Verve's Originals series. This is for those who are fans who don't have it yet (and who are unwilling to pay high collector's fees for good vinyl copies or the wages of Japanese import insanity), and those wondering where to begin with Nelson the arranger.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek