Count Basie: The Atomic Mr. Basie
Number 993, of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before you Die.
Research suggests that William James “Count” Basie is an influential figure in the history of jazz, particularly the ‘big band’ scene. But I can’t recall hearing his name anywhere before, which isn’t a surprise given that Jazz isn’t my strong point.
Based on the cover art I was expecting some wild, high energy freak outs. An explosion of reeded instruments and skittery drum work. But even at its most raucous the vibe here is restrained and composed. Tracks like Whirly-Bird feature some roller coaster brass lines and infectious piano work from Basie himself, yet there’s never any sense of danger. Each player knows what the score is and they follow it.
This is ‘Big Band’ though, right? At least that’s my understanding. This was music composed to get people up and moving in nightclubs, when nightclubs had tables with little lamps on them and people danced with an actual partner. I see the world in black, white and silver when I listen to this record. I slip into old Hollywood films filled with good manners and naive moral dilemmas. I feel too far removed from this era to appreciate the sound.
Oddly, the tracks that appeal to me most are the slower, slinkier numbers like Midnight Blue and After Supper. These are the soundtrack to Humphrey Bogart characters dressed in trench coats, with hat brims resting low on their brows, hiding from the rain in smoky bars and sipping from tumblers of scotch.
I can’t say that The Atomic Mr. Basie will be on regular rotation around these parts. I need my Jazz to be real loose, man.