This music is like relaxing into the warmth of a heated pool.
FABRIK D 77125
Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison – trumpet; Joe Newman – trumpet; Benny Powell – trombone;
Marshall Royal – alto; Buddy Tate – tenor; Billy Mitchell – tenor; Nat Pierce – piano
John Heard – bass; Gus Johnson – drums
Recording 5th May 1981
Settling into a Basie inspired suite of music is like relaxing into the warmth of a heated pool. You know exactly what you are encountering, and you don’t expect revelations. However, sometimes, you can be surprised.
This is a very enjoyable record of musicians doing what they do best with skills that they have honed over the years. There are just three people missing: Basie himself, Freddie Green who supplied an essential rhythmic impulse and Sonny Payne who revolutionised the drum chair. This band is a mixture of alumni from the Old and New Testament bands. The only interlopers are pianist Nat Pierce and bassist John Heard.
Gus Johnson left the Basie band in 1954 and in some ways his replacement, Sonny Payne, changed the band giving it a very different feel. Payne was the essence of the New Testament band. Johnson here is very Old Testament and certainly gives this band a forties/fifties feel. He works well with John Heard but, excellent and powerful bassist that Heard is, he cannot make up for the absence of Freddie Green.
Nat Pierce has replaced Basie on many occasions. A very versatile pianist and at various times he has substituted for Lionel Hampton, Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington and worked for many years with Woody Herman as both arranger and pianist. His facsimile playing here is note perfect and leads the Basie royalty on the opening track with panache and the unique swing. Buddy Tate takes the first solo on ‘Bluesbird Blues’ with his authoritative throaty tenor establishing a strong introduction. Harry Edison hits hard immediately and is recognisable with a solo of bridled excitement. Benny Powell starts quietly and builds slowly, eventually almost reaching avant-garde territory as he spits out notes before giving way to the smooth tenor of Billy Mitchell.
Benny Powell is very much the surprise in this group. He is given ‘Please Send Me Someone to Love’. His work is animated and full of nuances from the mutes and techniques he uses as he explores the deeper recesses of the instrument. He emphasises the fact that players of older styles have resources that younger players who have been academically schooled will not have developed.
When Edison solos he does so with all the vitality of youth and the maturity of age. His tone brassy, his ideas fresh and stated with economy. The time with this group was time away from the recording studios where Edison supplied musical comments behind singers such as Sinatra and Fitzgerald Newman’s solo on ‘Satin Doll’ is in contrast to Edison: buttoned down and adhering close to the melody. His bright clear tone and his straightforward playing style is cool.
‘Everything Happens to Me’ enables Buddy Tate to unfurl that rich tone, his inherent swing and his blues drenched style. However, it is the harmonic intelligence cloaked in a velvety tone that stands out. Marshall Royal was the rehearsal boss of the Basie band and when he soloed with Basie, he was often close to schmalz, never a natural fluent improviser.
The recording as we have come to expect from the Fabrik series of albums is excellent. The album notes are a mixture of irrelevancies and errors.
Volume 2 with Joe Williams will be issued in 2024.
Reviewed by Jack Kenny