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Benny Morton

1934-1945

Release Date: 03/25/1997
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Benny Morton didn't make very many recordings as a leader. What you've got here are apparently all of them. The 1934 band contained several musicians who had worked in Don Redman's orchestra. "Fare Thee Well to Harlem" is one of many preposterous Tin Pan Alley songs depicting a "negro" who yearns to go back to the noble South, in this case because of the questionable assumption that down there people go to church instead of hanging out in bars. Note that Duke Ellington always insisted there were more churches than nightclubs in Harlem. Ellington gave the world the diametric opposite of this song when in 1941 he composed "Jump For Joy," that ode to emancipation with its opening lyric: "Fare thee well, land of cotton, fare thee well." It's almost as if he was responding to this particular song! Will we ever know? "Tailor Made" was composed and arranged by bassist Billy Taylor, who chugs away behind the band without soloing. "The Gold Digger's Song," with its refrain of "We're in the money," came directly out of Busby Berkeley's Hollywood during the Great Depression. Nobody ever sang a hipper version of this giddy paean to economic denial than Henry "Red" Allen. Edward Inge quotes both "Yankee Doodle" and "Pagliacci" during his clarinet solo. Benny Morton's Trombone Choir was a follow-up for Roy Eldridge's Trumpet Ensemble and Coleman Hawkins His Sax Ensemble, all brilliantly produced by Harry Lim for Keynote Records. The fact that four trombones were considered a choir is immediately understandable when you immerse yourself in their glowing tonalities. The music is sculpted with great precision, and the 'bones are able to strut their stuff largely because of the excellent rhythm section of Johnny Guarnieri, Al Hall and Sid Catlett. Although Leonard Feather is credited as the composer of "Sliphorn Outing," the tune is clearly recognizable as an upbeat version of "Avalon." You realize Al Jolson could have sued for royalties! "Sliphorn" is also a necessary blow-out after the beautifully controlled cooperation and perfectly blended harmonies of "Where or When," "Liza" and "Once in a While." The Blue Note recordings of Benny Morton's All Stars, featuring Barney Bigard and Ben Webster, are precious as lapis lazuli. "My Old Flame" comes across like an Ellington tune, for obvious reasons. "Conversing In Blue" might be one of the greatest collective improvisations in all of traditional jazz. Six men interact, three of them using wind instruments in strikingly expressive ways, carefully listening to each other while voicing their innermost feelings with honesty and passion. The allad and the lues are perfectly matched by a pair of hot standards. All four sides were originally issued on 12" 78s, allowing additional time for extended solos and prolonged exchanges between the horns. The album ends with four obscure titles issued on the Stinson label. Benny Morton's gentle approach to the trombone is beautifully demonstrated on "Stardust." Prince Robinson's clarinet is a noticeable presence during "Boogie" and those quirkily titled romps, "Williphant Willie" and "Chicken at the Chester." Not a bad career retrospective for a man who spent most of his time playing in the brass section of other peoples' bands. ~ arwulf arwulf, Rovi

  • Format: CD
  • Release Date: 03/25/1997
  • Record Label: Classics
  • UPC: 7237226991222
  • Product ID: 824158
  • Genre: Big Band, Swing

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