Purely by the accidental circumstance of having a relatively small slice of music from which to draw, Verve's Woody Herman Jazz Masters volume provides a service by selecting from all five Philips albums that document one of Herman's best bands. This was a zesty, youth-driven outfit, studded with fine musicians like the late trumpeter Bill Chase, tenor player Sal Nistico, pianist/arranger Nat Pierce (who apparently ran the band behind the scenes), trombonist Phil Wilson and drummer Jake Hanna. The repertoire proves that Herman had his ear to the ground by including numbers like a thoroughly energizing, authentic-sounding version of Mingus' "Better Git It In Your Soul." For old time's sake, road father Woody is there with an occasional good-humored vocal on a revivified oldie like "Caldonia." All this unit lacked was the First Herd's extra spark of originality and Zeitgeist-inspired exuberance -- being exactly in the right place at the right time in history -- but it's a close judgment call. In other words, while you wouldn't want this CD as a single-disc introduction to Herman's six-decade career -- a First or Second Herd sampler would be a better choice -- there's a lot of exciting music to be heard here.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell