After playing in a few bands in the late '20s and early '30s, clarinetist Artie Shaw formed the first of his several big bands in 1936. This initial group was unique, to say the least: Along with a core jazz band, Shaw also included a string section and a Dixieland-style contingent. In spite of the odd instrumentation, though, Shaw's first band cut many fine sides. This roundup on the Hep label brings together 24 of them, including such highlights as "Japanese Sandman," "Copenhagen," and "Sobbin' Blues." The band might not have been up to the standards of later Shaw groups, but still produced enough in the way of tight ensemble work and topnotch solos (tenor saxophonist Tony Pastor, drummer George Wettling, and pianist/arranger Joe Lipman deserve special mention). A disc best suited to Shaw devotees. First-timers will want to get their feet wet with one of the Bluebird compilations covering Shaw's prime 1938-1945 stretch.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook