I got given this CD for my 18th birthday by one of those people who happen to cross your paths enough that they get invited to an 18th birthday, but not anyone that you maintain contact with once you lose contact. . . . In fact, I’m struggling to remember his name.  Hopefully, he won’t find this post . . .

It doesn’t matter, what’s on review here is the CD itself, not the person who gave it to me.

At the time, big band music was something entirely foreign to me.  I’d heard of it, I’d certainly heard it before, but it wasn’t anything that I was in a hurry to listen to.  (I think this was back in my oratorio days, just before I got into opera.)

But now that I’m attempting to actually give my CDs a decent hearing (ie sit down and actually listen rather than just putting them on asbackground music), it was interesting to revisit it.

Big band music (in fact, jazz in general) mystifies me.  It has its own musical language that is completely different from the classical school, and quite a distance from the current rock/pop music.  While I’m sure fans of pop, rock, punk, funk, emo, metal, techno and the like would probably take me to task for suggesting that a lot of their stuff sounds the same, there is a sense that the syncopated beat and driving chords that mark most of this stuff kind of groups it all together.

But jazz is bizarre.  It sounds completely improvised – but how do they know where to go next? How do the musicians work out what chords, notes, etc. make it “work”?  In short, I’ve yet to work out how it’s all put together.  I know there are books and such like out there that will explain all this, and when I get some time, one day I shall sit down and learn about this mysterious art form.

In the meantime (for those of you who haven’t given up on my post because of my sheer ignorance of the topic), we have here an album of 23 tracks, each featuring a different American big band from the late 1930s/early 40s.  There’s some fairly big names that everyone knows such as Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and Count Basie, but there’s also a lot of more obscure ones as well.

They’re all lifted off 78 RPM records but the sound on my CD (which was released under a different label, with different cover art, but featuring exactly the same tracks) is phenomenal, albeit mono.  Certainly, the clarity of each instrumental group is crystal clear, so you will be able to pick out each instrument and what they’re doing.

The soloists in each band (and there’s usually multiple solos on everything from trumpet through to clarinet through to vibraphone) are all top-notch, and if you were in the club where any of these guys were playing, you would have had a phenomenal night.

Outside of the dance hall, just listening in an armchair, I found that 75 minutes of this stuff was about as much as I could take.  I think it’s better danced to than listened to.  That said, however, this is very, very clever stuff and if you want one album of music to represent the big band era, I suspect you could do a lot worse than this one.

I’ll give it 4 out of 5, but those of you big band enthusiasts will, I’m sure, give it the full 5.

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