Frank Sinatra and Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings

The Chairman meets the Count

The twenty tracks collected here pull together the original line-ups of 1962’s Sinatra-Basie: An Historical Musical First and 1964’s It Might as Well Be Swing. Both albums found Sinatra in superb voice, complete command of his material and leading Basie’s band from the singer’s seat. Unlike his early days as a big band boy singer, Sinatra doesn’t have to dodge and weave around the instrumentalists; Neil Hefti and Quincy Jones penned the arrangements in consultation with the vocalist, and the band hangs on his every word. Basie may have been the band leader, but once Sinatra opened his mouth, the instrumentalists took their cues from the Chairman.

By the early ‘60s, Sinatra was in the third phrase of his career – having transformed from big band singer to crooner to ring-a-ding-ding label owner.  In his late ‘40s, the feeling of freedom in his singing was never stronger. He dances through the lyrics as if he was singing extemporaneously, expressing himself rather than the thoughts of a songwriter, and the arrangements push him to great heights. Basie’s band (and for the second album, orchestra) swung hard, ranging from jazzy piano, bass and percussion interludes to full-out horn charts. The sections play with a coherence that’s sublime, and the soloists are given space to weave their own magic, including especially fine moments from flautist Frank Wess.

Sinatra’s records at Capitol may have represented his greatest sustained period of artistic achievement, but his years on Reprise often consolidated and exploited what he’d learned. His sessions with Basie, particularly the first, were a master class in tone and phrasing. Basie’s greatest artistic growth had similarly occurred in earlier decades, but he retained nealy unparalleled talent for accompanying a singer – supporting the vocals as the primary mission, but finding room for the band to be heard. Hefti and Riddle’s contributions can’t be overstated, picking songs and writing charts that allowed Sinatra and Basie to infuse new life into these iconic selections. Sinatra deftly punches, pauses and slides through the lyrics of “(Love is) The Tender Trap,” and with a transformation from Bossa Nova to 4/4, “Fly Me to the Moon” was established as a Sinatra standard.

Some material from the second session – movie and stage themes “More” and “Hello, Dolly!” – are lightweight compared to the collection’s better titles, but Sinatra and Basie still give their all. Concord’s reissue includes liner notes from Robin Douglas-Home and Stan Cornyn (featuring an interview with Quincy Jones), and newly penned notes by Bill Dahl, but the key is Sinatra: no auto-tune, no punch-ins, no splice jobs… just a supremely talented singer letting it all hang out in front of the world’s reigning swing band. To complete your collection of Sinatra-Basie collaborations, pick up the 1966 live album, Sinatra at the Sands, featuring Quincy Jones conducting the Count Basie Orchestra. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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