When Count Basie returned to Verve Records in 1962, Neal Hefti was contracted to write the tunes and arrangements, a revival of their partnership from the 1958 Roulette LP Basie Plays Hefti. While none of these selections is as famous as his songs like "Cute," "Little Pony," "Splanky," "Li'l Darlin'," and "Repetition," the substantial originality of this music is hard to deny, not to mention that the expert musicians playing his music bring these tracks fully to life in a livelier fashion than most laid-back Basie studio sessions. In fact, it has the feeling of a concert date that trumps the more clean, controlled environment of a session that was recorded on a three-track reel-to-reel. There's also plenty of room for exceptional solos from most of the participants, as Hefti is mindful of who is in the band and how each musician might sound when given his head. This is tried and true swing-oriented modern big-band music that actually sounds advanced for its time frame, and is solid as anything Basie has done post-"April in Paris." The band is atypically bold and brazen on the opener, "I'm Shoutin' Again," with Frank Wess on alto (not tenor) sax for his spirited solo. The great chart of "Jump for Johnny" is a hard bopper for Johnny Carson, basic Basie with tenor saxophonist Frank Foster and trumpeter Sonny Cohn trading licks. Hefti's best work is showcased during "Together Again," as the hopping brass and singing horns take tuneful twists and turns. This set also includes the classic track "The Long Night," a famous blues featuring the sly flute of Wess in front of the horn section and a masterful muted solo by trumpeter Thad Jones. There are other tunes that are derivative, as you can clearly hear the borrowed phrases of "C Jam Blues"/"Duke's Place" in the low-key then blasted-out "Eee Dee," "Shiny Stockings" sprinkled about during the more typical laid-back "Rose Bud," and "Groove Merchant" or "Hallelujah, I Just Love Him So" in the easy-swinging soul groove of "Ain't That Right." Hefti's movie soundtrack experience comes to the fore on "Shanghaied," definite spy music with Cohn's muted trumpet masking phobias and paranoia. There are two cute tunes: "Skippin' with Skitch," led by three flutes (Wess, Eric Dixon, and Charlie Fowlkes); and the lightly strutting "Ducky Bumps," featuring Henry Coker's trombone, with brief solos from Basie's piano and bassist Buddy Catlett. A solid and worthwhile album that has been out of print for far too long, this will be a welcome addition to any Basie lover's collection, and comes highly recommended to anyone even mildly interested in excellent large-ensemble mainstream jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos