Count Basie Spins at 45rpm

Oops. I mistakenly called this Basie Jam in the March Stereophile's "In Heavy Rotation" listing. How's that? This was sent to me, along with others in the series, as test pressings in plain white jackets. Of course I have written often about the original Pablo issue of this monster of a record, so I have no excuses. Anyway, Basie Jam, another Pablo great, has yet to be issued at 45 rpm, so many of you have figured out my mistake and sent me e-mails about it. Sorry.

This is a great choice for Analogue Productions' ongoing 45-rpm reissue series from the Fantasy Records catalog. Pablo was Norman Granz's final label (he died November 22, 2001 at the age of 83) and no one is claiming that the music he produced on the label equaled what was released on JATP (Jazz at the Philharmonic), Clef, Norgran, or Verve--his previous labels. However, there was much great music and often fabulous sound, as demonstrated by this set, recorded by Ocean Way owner (and collector of great vintage microphones) Allen Sides on May 11 and 12, 1983.

Big-band music was about as popular and commercial in 1983 as The Dixie Chicks at a Young Americans for Freedom rally, but Granz persisted, as did Basie, of course, who passed away on April 26, 1984, less than a year after this recording.

Many jazz greats passed through Basie's band, including Lester Young, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, and Freddie Green. By the time of this recording only a few veterans remained, including trombonist Grover Mitchell, who leads the band today with some of the same players found on this session.

The title tune is a dynamic tour-de-force of big-band bravado, featuring a searing, dynamic arrangement by Sam Nestico, who was responsible for all arranging and conducting on the dates. There are also two small group tracks featuring guitarist Joe Pass in the Freddie Green "seat," which he ably fills. Whether because of the date it was recorded or something else, the emphasis here is on orchestral dynamics and rhythm, making 88 Basie Street a great disc with which to introduce young people to the greatness of the big-band era.

This is a studio recording, and no attempt was made to produce a life-like soundstage. Miking is close and soloists appear larger than life, though the drum kit is kept "small," unpanned, and back in the mix, giving the picture some semblance of order. Whatever is lost in terms of natural "size" is more than made up for by the recording's superb timbral accuracy, image specificity, and three-dimensionality. Sides' miking of Basie's piano is outstanding, especially the way he managed to capture the texture and power of the left side of the keyboard. When Basie goes for the deep notes, your body will vibrate.

The super-charged 45-rpm pressing, which spreads the approximately 40-minute disc over four sides of two LPs, absolutely creams the original 33 1/3 edition in every way. Reeds and brass are reproduced with uncanny accuracy. Aside from being filled with enjoyable music, I can't imagine a better demonstration disc for your system (if it's up to what this music delivers) and of the superiority of the LP. As a 20-year-old friend of mine who added a turntable to his system last Christmas might say, "This record kicks ass!"