The 1999 remastering (Columbia-Legacy 65571) supercedes all previous editions, CD or vinyl, of the 1961 album First Time! The Count Meets the Duke, and not just because of the superior sound and the presence of five bonus tracks that add 27 minutes to the running time, although that's a big part of it.
The sound is improved, making the original CD release seem like a copy of the LP, from the opening bars of the rollicking "Battle Royal," with that bass right up front. The Sonny Cohn and Ray Nance trumpet dialogue, and the Jimmy Hamilton clarinet and Budd Johnson tenor sax duet on "Take the A-Train" are more thickly textured and more "there" than on any previous incarnation, and Willie Cook's trumpet and Paul Gonsalves' tenor sax solo on "Corner Pocket" are gorgeously vivid. As important as anything else here, the closer sound captures the really hard, swinging nature of the performance on numbers like the bluesy "Segue in C" and "Jumpin' at the Woodside." The new notes, by bassist Aaron Bell and reissue co-producer Phil Schaap, also provide extraordinary insights into the making of this record -- with the album recorded more as a genial get-together than an old-style battle of the bands, and packaging only awaiting the approval of Basie, the Count balked at the "Battle Royal" title and jacket design, and his manager, Teddy Reig, supposedly flushed the only copy of the latter down the men's room toilet, thus forcing a reconsideration of the whole concept.
The result was a hastily designed cover for an obscurely titled album that Columbia was never fully behind in marketing -- that it's lingered this long is, thus, even more of a testament to the power of the music and the good feelings from the sessions.
1 Battle Royal Ellington 5:33
2 To You Davis, Dorsey, Jones, Shapiro 3:53
3 Take the "A" Train Strayhorn 3:46
4 Corner Pocket [Aka Until I Met You] Green, Wolf 4:53
5 Wild Man [Aka Wild Man Moore] Ellington 6:20
6 Segue in C Wess 8:22
7 B D B Ellington, Strayhorn 4:43
8 Jumpin' at the Woodside Basie 3:09
9 One More Once Ellington 3:25
10 Take the "A" Train [The Count DeParts] Strayhorn 5:50
11 Jumpin' at the Woodside Basie 3:14
12 B D B Ellington, Strayhorn 4:30
13 Blues in Hoss' Flat [Blues in Frankie's Flat] Basie, Foster 3:13
14 Wild Man [Aka Wild Man Moore] Ellington 5:55
15 Battle Royal [Rehearsal & Alternate Takes] Ellington 6:32
16 (Pause Track)
Basie Meets Ellington. Anyone who does not understand this significance is clueless so let me clue you in. I bought the LP years ago and jumped at the chance to get it on CD.
Ellington: a composer/musician whose abilities match anything accomplished by Bach Bartok or Stravinsky. Basie: His famous punctuated piano solos acted only a lure to a sudden wall of sound that hit with such tsunami power it probably broke many a sound meter in its day. Both men lead big bands of legendary proportion. Basie / Ellington band personal was a who's who of jazz, not just excellent musicians but soloist who laid foundations most great players build on today.
The first track on this CD is worth the price alone; signature light melodies accented by slamming walls of ensemble, swinging virtuoso solos, then two drummers square off trading eights in such a way they celebrate the very idea of jazz. The first drummer kicks off with an explosion then taps off in a coil like some great anaconda. Then the second drummer throws in the kitchen sink like a charging bull answered by the anaconda with his own kitchen sink almost a jungle shout. There is another set clever of trade-offs the envy of any drummer leading in the two bands for a huge finish. That is just the first track!
The other tracks are just as delightful and then there are the bonus tracks, which are a joy to listen to and a wonderful addition. This is a great celebration of big band jazz. We can only imagine some historic events; Babe Ruth swatting a homerun or being in the same room when Grant and Lee met to end the Civil War but put this CD on and you are there on that great day in 1961 when Basie met with Ellington for the first (and only) time.
This is a sealed never open edition.
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