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Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five - Summit Ridge Drive

Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five, include the New Gramercy Five sessions, recorded 1940-1954
LIVING ERA CD AJS 2007 [74.59 + 70.09]

Special Delivery Stomp
Summit Ridge Drive
Keepin’ Myself for You
Cross Your Heart
Dr Livingstone, I Presume
When the Quail Come Back to San Quentin
My Blue Heaven
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
The Grabtown Grapple
The Sad Sack
The Gentle Grifter
Hop, Skip and Jump
That Old Feeling
Besame mucho
I’ve got a Crush On You
Sunny Side Up
Autumn Leaves
The Pied Piper Theme
Don’t Take Your Love From Me
Stop and Go Mambo
I can’t get started
My Funny Valentine
Too Marvellous For Words
September Song
Dancing in the Dark
Back Bay Shuffle
Begin the Beguine

Devoted entirely to the various Gramercy Fives that Shaw led, this two CD set triumphantly reinforces his virtuosity, imagination and flexibility. It’s a useful way to consider the bulk of these small band recordings since compilations tend to concentrate on the Big Band discs and to confine the Gramercys to the earlier 1940 sides – those startling chamber jazz sessions with harpsichord. Here, in the round, we see Shaw moving from the antique titillation of that unusual keyboard (not unique – people such as Meade Lux Lewis had recorded on harpsichord or celeste) through to the bop-tinged later sessions and some topical Latin-American music.

The list of musical companions is a strong one, from Roy Eldridge, Hank Jones, Dodo Marmarosa, Johnny Guarnieri, Billy Butterfield, Barney Kessel and a number of other equally powerful players. The standards are universally high and the level of musical consistency – often overlooked – quite phenomenal. Coming back to the earlier tracks it occurred to me that Billy Butterfield modelled his playing far more on that of Muggsy Spanier than I’d remembered and that the leader himself had listened as closely to Jimmie Noone as had his rival Benny Goodman, though Noone’s influence on Goodman was always the more pronounced. The 1940 Gramercy Fives are deservedly renowned even when injecting a note of spurious boogie-woogie (Cross your Heart) or when Shaw shows off some klezmer and drum colour in the otherwise straightforward Dr Livingstone, I Presume. Shaw was always a master of the detail of these kinds of songs; he slips in classical trills and introductions and endings of almost operatic panache, but always tightly argued and witty, never portentous. The arrangement of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes for instance is especially effective with the melodic statements given to instruments in turn – a real lyric democracy in action. The 1945 sessions are all-Shaw compositions and see Eldridge playing a contained, highly effective lead full of rich tone and fine ideas. The 1953/54 tracks settle into a good, though not always inspiring groove, but when the tail’s up the band piles on the fun – take Besame mucho for some Machito-inspired fun.

There are some rather vogue-ish moments – reprises of The Peanut Vendor (never a good idea, then or now) and some slapdash quotations from popular songs – but they’re few indeed. Shaw always sounds effortlessly up to date, respecting his own lineage, tonally, whilst open to the new sounds rhythmically and harmonically. The introduction of vibes only added to the sense of currency and the tight swing engendered by the later band is in its own way just as apt as the early Gramercy exhilaration.

Once again this Living Era two CD set lives up to its high standards in documentation and transfer quality – these seem to be a feature of the series and the compilers are to be congratulated. Not everyone does this. In every way this is a splendid set.

Jonathan Woolf

Devoted to the Shaw-led Gramercy Fives, this triumphantly reinforces their virtuosity, imagination and flexibility. ... see Full Review

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