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The Atomic Mr. Basie
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  • The release of this album in late 1957 marked the beginning of a glorious new phase in Count Basie's career. Signed to Roulette Records, the newly formed label owned by Morris Levy, the New York recording entrepreneur, jukebox mogul, club owner, and quasi-underworld figure, it took Basie's core audience and a lot of other people by surprise, as a bold, forward-looking statement within the context of a big-band recording -- if not as daring as what Duke Ellington had done at Newport in 1956, still a reminder that there was room for fresh, even dazzling improvisation (especially courtesy of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis's contribution) within the framework of a big-band jazz unit. The band and its key members were all "on" for these two days of sessions, and Neal Hefti's arrangements gave all concerned a chance to show what they could do. Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, stands out from the get-go with his solo on "Flight of the Foo Birds," a rewriting of "Give Me the Simple Life" on which the tenor-man shares the stage with Thad Jones's trumpet solo, but nearly knock Jones off that same stage with his pyrotechnics. Davis plunges into new territory, defining the Basie "Atomic" period with his solo on "Whirly-Birds" (originally less aptly titled "Roller Coaster"), which soars into the air on his break. Joe Newman and Thad Jones's muted trumpets are the featured instruments on "Duet." "The Kid From Red Bank" offers an unusual showcase for Basie himself at the piano, playing the least number of notes possible to surprise and bedazzle the listener, while "Li'l Darlin'" offers the Basie band's answer to Ellington's "Mood Indigo." (See also: The Complete Atomic Basie -- 1994). ~ Bruce Eder
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