Idiosyncratic bandleader, would-be novelist, husband to the stars, and, oh yes, one of the finest clarinet players in jazz history, Artie Shaw fits the description on all counts, while also being responsible for one of the best catalogs of big-band and small group material from the years 1936-1955. Before career milestones like his big 1938 hit "Begin the Beguine" and later Gramercy Five combo recordings, though, Shaw cut these 1937-1938 sides with his first big band. While not yet flush with future star soloists like drummer Buddy Rich and tenor saxophonist George Auld, this Shaw contingent still shines on such standouts as "Night and Day" and "Blue Skies," as well as on quality Shaw originals like "Non-Stop Flight," "The Chant," "Free Wheeling," and the band's theme song, "Nightmare." In place of the more propulsive and harder sound Rich would soon bring to the band, here the clarinetist's crew lay down a somewhat innocuous yet solid beat; Shaw seems no less engaged, as his impressive solo work proves over the entire length of the record. Newcomers looking for a starting point into Shaw's work should check out his more famous RCA/Bluebird sides first, but they certainly won't be disappointed when they get around to this collection of slightly earlier material.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook