Unlike other big-band singers who regarded the other musicians in the orchestra as little more than backup to their generally sugarcoated stylings, Billy Eckstine was a man with wide-ranging tastes and a musicality he brought to everything he lent his honeyed baritone voice to. When it was time for him to start his own band to capitalize on his growing fame, he didn't settle for hiring some hacks to read charts framed around his vocals. Instead, he put together what is now, in hindsight, the first big band to feature almost exclusively young, emerging bop players. Both "Bird" and "Diz" did time in the band and, at one time or another, Eckstine featured Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, and Kenny Dorham on his bandstand. The band was far, far ahead of its time, appealing more to musicians than white America, but making extraordinary music nonetheless. This single-disc collection brings together a delightful batch of tunes that band recorded for the tiny National label between 1945 and the following year. With Art Blakey, Tommy Potter, and Leo Parker also in the lineup, this is no nostalgic "remember the big bands" anthology by any stretch of the imagination, and Eckstine's vocals on "A Cottage for Sale," "Prisoner of Love," and "I'm in the Mood for Love" are every bit as fine as the band's two takes of Gillespie's "Oo Bop Sh'Bam." Originally a 32-track, two-disc vinyl album set, the compact disc configuration lops off the last five tunes from that original collection due to time restrictions.
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AllMusic Review by Cub Koda