True to its word, this bargain-priced survey of Woody Herman's first band is right on message; all but three of the 18 tracks have "blues" or "blue" in the title. As such, it succeeds in surveying that aspect of the Herman band from early sessions in 1937 to September 1941 on the eve of the AF of M recording ban. Among the rarer treats here is the unusual "Calliope Blues," with its radical (for the time) use of a flute choir. On the last session covered here, the band made a famous cover version of Harold Arlen's standard-to-be "Blues in the Night," and you can hear the composer chime in as he answers Herman's lead vocal. Typically, Naxos scrambles the chronological order of the survey, but any sure-fingered listener can correct that by using the programming control. In one seamless sleight-of-hand editing feat, "Blues Upstairs" and "Blues Downstairs" -- the A and B sides of a Decca 78 -- are joined together without a pause; even the cymbal crash that ends "Upstairs" carries over into the piano intro of "Downstairs." Furthermore, Naxos' transfers, although somewhat subdued, are closer to the original 78s in sound than Decca/GRP's brash, NoNoised versions of some of these tracks on the 1991 CD Blues on Parade (even though, in a few cases, Decca had access to better sources). And Naxos has corrected the pitch of the original 78s that were faulty, which Decca did not do in its transfers -- one more pertinent reason to pick up this release.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell