81 of 81 people found the following review helpful
A great deal on the best from this Swing genuis!
, March 12, 2004
This review is from: Begin The Beguine (Audio CD)
[First of all, there seems to be some confusion at Amazon as to what tracks are actually on this disc: there are two "editions" listed of the same album (?), but with completely different track details. For the record, here are the tracks on the CD that I own, which I believe is the only one available -- the second listing is a mistake:
2. Indian Love Call
2. Back Bay Shuffle
4. Any Old Time
5. Traffic Jam
6. Comes Love
7. What Is this Thing Called Love?
8. Begin the Beguine
9. Oh! Lady Be Good
11. Serenade to a Savage
12. Deep Purple
13. Special Delivery Stomp
14. Summit Ridge Drive
16. Star Dust
17. Blues (Parts I & II)
19. Moon Ray
20. The Carioca
If this track listing matches the one you see listed Amazon, then buy with confidence! My review covers these tracks.]
Artie Shaw was an uncompromising, brilliant swing musician and bandleader who was always seeking new creative outlets and stretching the boundaries of swing. He frequently broke up his bands and took vacations from music, only to return with new ideas (he finally retired from music for good in the 1950s, and now lives quietly in Los Angeles). This CD is a great introduction (at a great price) to the man and his music. It focuses mostly on his most popular band: the 1938-1939 band that stole away "The King of the Swing" title from the other clarinet bandleader, Benny Goodman. This was the most popular Big Band of its time, but Shaw disbanded it in disgust at the `business' side of the music business. The CD also contains selections from his band of 1940-41, which enlarged to 22 musicians, including a string quartet, and two tracks from his superb small group, The Gramercy Five. All in all, it's a great overview of Shaw's best two musical periods.
Shaw was an incomparable clarinetist and musical experimenter, and the first track, "Nightmare" (the band's theme song) shows off both sides. As a starter for a swing band, it's an unusual, slow, and very creepy track! But the band gets right into the swing of things afterwards, and we hear the classics that made this 1938-39 band such a powerhouse: "Back Bay Shuffle," "Any Old Time" (with a vocal by Billie Holliday!), "Indian Love Call" (which shows how Shaw could turn a commercial tune his label forced on him into a dazzling work of art -- with a great `skat' vocal from sax player Tony Pastor), "Oh! Lady Be Good" (one of the hottest dance numbers ever!), "Serenade to a Savage" (superb percussion work on this odd piece); and the high-octane power of the one the fastest swing numbers of all time: "Traffic Jam." The band's musicians, which included Buddy Rich on drums, and Georgie Auld and Tony Pastor on tenor sax, just amaze at every turn. The band's principal vocalist, Helen Forrest, sings three beautiful but very swingin' numbers: "Comes Love," "Deep Purple," and "Moon Ray" (which is a live performance from a radio broadcast). Forrest sang with two other great bands of the era, Benny Goodman and Harry James, but she was at her best with Shaw's band: her voice was simply a perfect fit for the musicians, and she seemed to understand exactly what they were all about.
But the big hit of this band was "Begin the Beguine," which Shaw `rescued' from a failed Cole Porter musical and turned into three minutes of the best American music ever recorded. This beautiful jazz performance both swings and croons, and even though Shaw later referred to the piece as an "anchor around my neck" because of its huge popularity, I think any musician would be proud to have such an incredible number so closely connected to him.
The tracks from the second band are "Frenesi," "Temptation," "Blues (Parts I & II)," "Moonglow," and "Stardust." The sound is much different, containing the influence of classical music thanks to the string quartet, but it is nonetheless true swing as well. The sound is unique, even if it isn't quite as amazing as the first band. "Temptation" is the real stand-out here; Shaw's solo is startling and inspiring. Two tracks from the small group The Gramercy Five -- "Special Delivery Stomp" and "Summit Ridge Drive" -- show how experimental Shaw was during this period: he replaced the piano with a harpsichord! These are astonishing small jazz recordings. (If you want more of this, buy "The Complete Gramercy Five Sessions" CD.)
The sound is, for the most part, quite good. There is some crackle and noise, but thankfully the producers didn't use any serious noise reduction, like I've heard on some discs, that dampens the instrument range and cuts off the high frequency. Believe me, you won't notice that hiss and crackles within a few minutes when you hear the clarity of the instruments.
This is a great deal on CD packed with one of America's finest musicians at his peak. If you've heard Goodman or Glenn Miller, you owe it to yourself to meet Artie Shaw. Trust me, you'll be amazed.
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