Count Basie & his Orchestra - "88 Basie Street" album review #2


Evaluated by Claude Lemaire. Max. perfect rating: 10/ A+ [sound/music] Original review published Aug. 2010 

COUNT BASIE & HIS ORCHESTRA - "88 BASIE STREET" 

Originally on Pablo 2310-901 (1984)
Reissued by Analogue Productions AJAZ 2310-901 (2003)

Rating: 9.5/ A

Category: Jazz / Big Band
Format: vinyl (2x 180g at 45rpm)

Arranger and Conductor for Big Band sides only: Sam Nestico 
Produced by: Norman Granz 
Recorded at: Oceanway Studios, Hollywood, May 11 and 12, 1983 
Recording Engineer: Allen Sides 
Remastered and Lacquer cut by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech Mastering 
Pressed at: RTI, California, USA 
Cover photo by: Phil Stern

A bit of swing history



Along with Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, the Count and his Orchestra must be regarded as one of the great pioneers of the Big Band Era. What Basie lacked in complexity and sophistication when up and against the Duke he more than compensated for in pure swing and Basie blues.


Starting in the early to mid-1930s, Basie and the Band accompanied by some big names throughout the years like Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Rushing and Frank Sinatra just to name a few kept up swinging for half a century. 


Here on what is one of his last recordings before his death in 1984, the same year as the original release date, we find him in great shape accompanied by this sixteen member band. With a fine mixture of swinging blues and ballads, "88 Basie Street"–no doubt in reference to the 88 notes on the grand piano–delivers what one might expect from such a classy jazz icon.


The recording of an icon



Recording engineer Allen Sides did a fantastic job capturing the essence and the energy of this terrific Big Band with what must be some mighty impressive equipment, not discounting wonderful acoustics and experienced savoir faire in the art of mike placement and level adjustment. Granted, obtaining excellent sound from a jazz ensemble or Big Band is easier than from a pop or rock group (because of numerous reasons); still it's rare to get everything just so. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


Even though this remastering, cut at 45 rpm requires 2 records instead of the original Pablo single LP cut at 331/3rpm, it's quite disappointing that the album jacket is not gatefold and sourced from carton that with time tends to get unglued. In addition, no gloss or premium finish is added which is odd considering the higher price of this limited series. This must be rectified for future 'Top 45' series to insure it's long time collector's value. Despite this, the records are well protected in generic paper with polyvinyl lining sleeves. Both 180g vinyl were black, shiny, flat, silent and with the dead wax starting about an inch from the label perimeter; in other words perfect.


Side A

Track - 1 

"Bluesville" as the title implies starts things rolling with a slow bluesy swing. Composer and arranger Sam Nestico and The Count opens with a few notes on the piano, the Bass, amplified and 'elastic' accompanied by the light hi-hat provides a 'sound bed' for the sparse piano intro leading up to the sole muted trumpet. Already with only a minute or so elapsed you know this is going to be a treat for the ears and soul. Soon, smooth saxes followed by powerful anchored trombones enter the picture with their crunchy, brassy tones paving the way for a slow buildup, provided by trumpet fortes plus punchy drum kicks and syncopated snare shots. Together they elevate the 'sound ceiling' to new heights confirming the great dynamic range and transparency of this sound take. Towards the middle, the energy softens temporarily to finally come back in a strong, proud, punchy and dynamic finale.

Track - 2

"88 Basie Street" another penned by Sam Nestico is a slow swinging sophisticated ballad. The classy muted trombones reminiscent of the Dorsey Brothers 'sweet sound' set the stage for the muted saxes and trumpets, every instrument blending to perfection, making it so easy to follow. The delicate piano playing reaching down to the lowest octaves while the 'cushionny' Bass and the precise sound of the drumstick on the hi-hat explores the wide bandwith of this recording.

Side B 

Track - 3

"Contractor's Blues", the first of two Basie originals, is a fast uptempo number that intro's with clean upfront descending and ascending piano chords followed shortly by close intimate tenors plus muted trumpets handling the higher register. The drummer's ride and hi-hat pick up the ever growing, swinging boogie woogie vibe. After the saxes have their say, it's time for the one and only Joe Pass, superbly captured on guitar, to take it down a notch to prepare the terrain for Basie to reappear soloing with Pass, comping close behind, before the brass take it back up a couple of notches playing harder, turning the riff in one mean jive jump blues machine. Heading towards the coda the party energy decreases to a very close mike intimate feel bringing us inwards and 'waking us' a last time with a forte four bar finale.


Side C

Track - 4

Both pieces on this side are Nestico's originals and arrangements. "The Blues Machine", an uptempo blues, is probably the strongest number on the whole album at least for showcasing the chops and tight cohesion of this 'well oiled' outfit. Starting out quite simply in trio–piano, Bass and hi-hat plus snare establishing the tempo–with the swing feel picking up early on in the tune. You can feel the low end of the keyboard reaching down deep giving incredible dimension and realism to Basie's piano rarely heard on record. The rest just falls into place, the blend of the trumpets, saxes, muted trombones doing their glissandi, very crisp brass 'barking' and tight syncopated rhythm section. The perfect mellifluous combination of woodwind and brass, dynamic shading and staccato phrasing creating a wall of sound, powerful but never painful. Tremendous snap from the kick and snare drum 'til the very end. A showstopper for sure. 

Track - 5

"Katy" is a sumptuous ballad rich in sound with grain free brassy tones, that right from the start, sweeps you off of your seat. Every detail is simply spot on: the Bass always a bit rounded yet articulate and–all too rare–at the perfect level in the mix in turn supporting the floating melody of the muted brass. Outstanding and embracing arrangements coupled with lush, warm and 'earthy grunt' tones permeates the piece. Lots of audiophile goodies in this short gem. Huge dynamic crescendos that seem to have no upper limit. The ride cymbal has a realistic metal resonance which would be so welcome on rock recordings instead of the usual lofi fare we must put up with. The impressive build up culminating in the end, feels like an immersive ocean of sound waves.

Side D

Track - 6

The last track, "Sunday at the Savoy", a Basie original is the only small letdown of the package. Not bad, but definitely less inspiring than the previous numbers. It's a very slow 'dirty' blues with a '3am final set' open form feel when the joint is empty, not when it's jam packed. Joe Pass is first to solo, the alto takes up on the right with reverb lessening the intimate impact, followed by the tenor on the left and finally the trumpet comes in the center. Overall this one was a bit less dynamic in range and also in intimacy. 9.0/ B at the most.

SUMMING UP


Thanks in part to recording engineer Allen Sides plus the trusted remastering team of Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman at AcousTech Mastering and not neglecting all the plating and pressing steps to achieve such an outstanding reissue of reference calibre; Acoustic Sounds' Analogue Productions should be commended highly. The better your system, the bigger the reward soundwise. A definite must have!

This 45rpm reissue is non compressed or limited, has wide dynamic range, full-range sound, warm richly dense mids reaching deep down in the bass and up to the highest overtones. All tracks had a perfect blend in the mix of the many musicians making every melodic line easy to follow. No listener fatigue whatsoever from beginning to end. Startling, lightning fast kick-ass dynamic drum kit. Although Basie has been generally well served soundwise throughout the years, this is most probably the crème de la crème.

Top 10 All Time for piano weight and realism. Also for articulate, dynamic shading shifts in a drum kit and rhythm section in a jazz Big Band ensemble. In addition for Big Band brassy tone, grandeur, realistic size, panoramic imaging portrayal and intimacy. Crisp and warm at the same time with sweet extended top end and spot on treble detail, level and tonal balance.

Claude Lemaire/soundevaluations