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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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CHARLIE BARNET

The Collection 1935-47

Acrobat FADCD2039

 

 

CD 1

1. Growlin’

2. But Definitely

3. Emperor Jones

4. Knockin’ at the Famous Door

5. Scotch and Soda

6. The All-Night Record Man

7. Cherokee

8. The Count’s Idea

9. The Wrong Idea

10. Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie

11. Southland Shuffle

12. So Far, So Good

13. Wanderin’ Blues

14. Lament for May

15. Peaceful Valley

16. Pompton Turnpike

17. Southern Fried

18. Scrub Me Mama, with a Boogie Beat

19. Uptown Blues

20. Fantasia

21. Good for Nothin’ Joe

22. Charleston Alley

23. Afraid to Say Hello

24. Little John Ordinary

25. Para Vigo Me Voy

CD 2

1. Swing Low Sweet Chariot

2. Ponce de Leon

3. I Like to Riff

4. Shady Lady

5. Smiles

6. That Old Black Magic

7. Plowin [sic]

8. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

9. Thoughtless

10. Victory Walk

11. Washington Whirligig

12. Wichita Windstorm

13. The Moose

14. The Great Lie

15. Skyliner

16. West End Blues

17. You Always Hurt the One You Love

18. Desert Sands

19. Xango

20. E-Bob-O-Lee-Bob

21. Lonesome as the Night Is Long

22. Zanesville Zohio

23. Dark Bayou

24. East Side West Side

25. Caravan


Personnel: Includes Charlie Shavers, Peanuts Holland, Billy May, Doc Severinson, Clark Terry – Trumpet

Cliff Leeman – Drums

(I have not tried to list all the personnel because I am not sure that what is given in the booklet is correct, there being several errors in the vocalists listed).

Vocalists named in the booklet are not all correct but are as follows:

Charlie Barnet (CD 1, track 6)

Judy Ellington (CD 1, track 6)

Mary Ann McCall (CD 1, track 13)

Ford Leary (CD 1, track 18)

Lena Horne (CD 1, track 21)

Bob Carroll (CD 1, track 23)

Peanuts Holland (CD 2, tracks 3 and 20)

Frances Wayne (CD 2, track 6)

Kay Starr (CD 2, track 17)

Bunny Briggs (CD 2, track 24)

Recorded mainly in New York, but also including New Orleans and Hollywood, on various dates between Jan. 25, 1935 and Dec. 7, 1947.


Swelling the number of Charlie Barnet Orchestra reissues that have been appearing of late is this double disc set from Acrobat in their “Jazz Legend Series.” (Perhaps its greatest competition will be the double disc set on the Retrospective label The Right Idea · A Centenary Tribute—His 50 Finest 1939-1949 (RTS 4225), but of the one hundred titles in total both sets contain jointly, only nine are duplicated. So between the two one would have a fair sampling of Barnet’s recorded output.)

Born a millionaire, Barnet could indulge in just about whatever fancy crossed his mind. One of these was big band music, and he formed his own band to gratify it; but he was no dilettante. He was a competent reed player who attracted some of the finest musicians and arrangers to join him in the several bands he formed over the years. Despite his breaking up a band on a whim on occasion, thus making each member’s livelihood somewhat precarious, the musicians still returned when he decided to reform and sent out the call again. In part this may have been due to the fact that their salaries during the band’s existence were guaranteed and that a good time was to be had in the band, one of Barnet’s requirements. But the musical quality counted equally, and when it came to the music, it was not party time. Discipline was the order of the day, and it shows in both the tight arrangements and also his musicians’ fine execution of them. Barnet favoured up-tempo numbers, not being much interested in playing for dancing, and so what we get are fast, swinging renditions with crisp brass and reeds, backed by tightly punctuating rhythm, as most of the selections on these two discs exemplify. Included is his “send up” of the syrupy approach of so many of his contemporaries in the “society” bands, titled The Wrong Idea. Then he could take a tune such as You Always Hurt the One You Love, one which would certainly lend itself to such “schmaltz,” and instead give it a swinging, brassy treatment and jazzy vocal from a young Kay Starr. Or, unlike most bandleaders, perhaps, he could include a tone poem, such as Fantasia, in the band’s book.

However, Barnet liked other challenges. He—or his arrangers—could take a tune such as Scotch and Soda and slyly insert a subtle echo of bagpipes into it, the drones being suggested by the sax section playing that part and himself the chanter. Or a traditional folk song likeThe Irish Washerwoman that countless Irish jigs have been danced to was turned into a big band boogie number in Scrub Me Mama, with a Boogie Beat. Or a tune which is more familiar to traditional jazz fans than to swing fans could be “swung”, as was the case with Victory Walk—also known variously as “Joe Avery’s Piece,” “Victory Bounce,” “Holler Blues,” and “Second Line”—a 12-bar blues riff popular with the New Orleans jazz bands and which also became the basis of Bill Haley’s “Rock around the Clock.”

Barnet could also tip his hat to some of his contemporaries whom he admired and play their tunes or tunes in their styles, without being a copyist, as we see—or rather hear—him do in Emperor Jones (Duke Ellington), E-Bob-O-Lee-Bob (Cab Calloway), West End Blues (Louis Armstrong, including the famous cadenza), and Caravan (Duke Ellington).

Lastly, Barnet was cognizant of, and sympathetic to, the emerging “bebop” music that swing—or a least a segment of it—was morphing into during the war years of the early nineteen forties. East Side West Side, an old song dating from the 1890s and known then as The Sidewalks of New York, is made “up-to-date” here by having the band sing the lyrics, providing a backing chorus to the vocalist Bunny Briggs’ performing a scat vocal on top of this background chorus, thus ”modernizing” it. When the band takes over after the vocals, backing Barnet’s solo, it is in this modern “boppish” vogue.

Standing between me and a superior rating for this set, however, are two flaws. There is a carelessness in the booklet with naming and crediting the vocalists, which, in turn, casts doubt on the accuracy of the rest of the personnel data therein. It would not have been too difficult to get it right. Another is the variance in the volume level. Several tunes tend to be at different levels, necessitating the listener’s frequently having to adjust the volume control, especially when listening through earphones, to avoid instant deafness on occasion. That, too, could have been attended to before issuing the set.

But not to end on a negative note, I would say that Barnet wears several hats, and this double CD issue nicely exemplifies these. There is almost two and a half hours’ worth of first rate music here. Unless one has a very large collection of Barnet material, this set would be a useful addition to it or to any swing library.

Bert Thompson



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