Prior to going to work in Hollywood, Oliver Nelson made a number of excellent jazz records during the early '60s. The alto saxophonist leads a large orchestra during three separate sessions, each with a number of first-rate players. Among Nelson's originals, the blues "Full Nelson" features the leader's crisp alto sax, while "Back Woods" was written for (and features) fellow alto saxophonist Phil Woods. Woods also plays some choice clarinet in Nelson's "Ballad for Benny," a piece commissioned by Benny Goodman for his 1962 tour of the Soviet Union; while Nelson remarks in his liner notes that Goodman was displeased with it because "it reminded him of Duke Ellington," and adds the snappy comeback: "At least it didn't sound like Benny Goodman." "Hoedown" had previously been covered on an earlier Impulse release, the landmark Blues and the Abstract Truth; this version features the outstanding trumpeter Clark Terry and cool-toned guitarist Jimmy Raney. There are also some intriguing arrangements of others' works. "Cool," from West Side Story, is slowed down a bit from the stage version, and features Nelson with Joe Newman's muted trumpet. Duke Ellington's "Paris Blues" features prominent English horns and Clark Terry's matchless flügelhorn. "What Kind of Fool Am I?" is understated, as Nelson lets the arrangement do the work instead of spotlighting his own solo. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden