Count Basie

Swinging, Singing, Playing

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Former Count Basie trombonist Dennis Wilson, who has spent many years teaching at the University of Michigan, takes over the reins of the big band as an arranger for this effort that features three appearances by Manhattan Transfer vocalist Janis Siegel and two from Nnenna Freelon. Familiar standards, some lesser-known tunes, and four of Wilson's originals are tossed together to vary the program. Siegel and Freelon sound comfortable in this setting, while given ample opportunity to sing well-known songs in their own way, while Jamie Cullum and Jon Hendricks also get spotlight cameos. There are instrumentals as well, and pianist Geri Allen -- one of several fine guest stars added on -- flies on the piece "Giant Blues Flag Waver," where staccato accents collide head on with hard bop. A natural guest for the Basie band, Frank Wess brings his always effervescent flute to top off and play in perfect tandem with the horns on the Quincy Jones arrangement of his classic and endearing tune "Jessica's Day." Wilson's "Dark Morning" is a classic ballad/blues with a solo from the rising star of jazz trumpet Scotty Barnhart, while "Naomi's Blues" is a cool, clean drink of water with slight flavor additives from two criminally underrated jazz veterans -- bassist James Leary and trombonist Clarence Banks. Of the vocal tracks, Cullum's Mark Murphy light style is unforced and frankly flatly effaced on the ballad "Blame It on My Youth," while Hendricks shows how to do it up right, in call and response with Curtis Fuller's trombone and Wilson's pixie muted trombone during the tick-tock neo-bopper "Blues on Mack Avenue." Siegel is her reliable self, singing the tale of her hip male friend during "Like Young," running along the rails with bassist Rufus Reid on "Close Your Eyes," and swooning delicately with pianist Hank Jones, Reid, and restrained drummer Butch Miles on the delicate "I Have Waited So Long." Freelon really digs in on her take of the spirited swinger "Too Close for Comfort," albeit a half step off, while her scatting with the brushed drumming of Miles on the intro of "Yesterdays" prompts the horns to slowly creep in, then roar. Though there's nothing remarkably innovative here, what is impressive is the consistency of the group playing together as a whole, and if you like jazz singers, this will appeal to you. It's a fine tribute to masters who are with and not with us, one that Mr. Basie would certainly approve of.

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