Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti

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  • The first copy to hit the site in years and boy does our Shootout Winner here have STUNNING sound – it earned Triple Plus (A+++) grades from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If all you’ve ever heard is the Roulette original (or the wacky MoFi, or whatever current Heavy Vinyl pressing is being made, this LP is guaranteed to be a REVELATION
  • Basie Plays Hefti catches Basie’s band at the peak of their powers in 1958, and in this All Tube Recording you get every bit of the magic they made in the studio
  • “The Count Basie Orchestra was in top form for this set of Neal Hefti arrangements. Hefti had been one of the main architects of the new Basie sound of the ’50s… “Cute” (heard here in its initial recording) became a standard.”

This is the followup to the smash Basie album The Atomic Mr. Basie, an album we would love to make available if we could ever find a clean, good sounding copy to play. The liner notes tell the story of this album well. Click on the tab above to read them.

Basie was recording like a madman back in the late ’50s and even all through the ’60s. In 1958, the year of this release, he put out seven (7!) albums on the Roulette label. We’ve played quite a number of them over the years and found relatively few with audiophile quality sound.

Including the original Roulette pressing of this very title. We’ve only heard a few, and had only one for our shootout, but it was awful enough to make us swear off buying more, especially considering the prices vintage jazz albums are going for these days. Hard and sour brass, no real top or bottom, it’s the sound of a poorly mastered Old Jazz Record, fine for the consoles of the day, not so good on today’s advanced stereo systems. Emus seems to be the only way to go.

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. So high-resolution too.

And of course we absolutely loved the music. I had a chance to see the Basie Big Band perform not long ago at Disney Hall and a fairly large chunk of the music and arrangements they play these days are Neal’s, practically half I would venture to guess. Meaning simply that Hefti’s music has clearly stood the test of time. Play this album and you’re sure to see what I mean.

What Shootout Winning sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Basie Plays Hefti

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The instruments aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange.

This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Has Anyone Here Seen Basie
Cute
Pensive Miss
Sloo Foot
It’s Awfully Nice to Be With You

Side Two

Scoot
A Little Tempo, Please
Late Date
Count Down
Bag’a Bones
Pony Tail

AMG  Review

The Count Basie Orchestra was in top form for this set of Neal Hefti arrangements. Hefti had been one of the main architects of the new Basie sound of the ’50s and on this memorable date he utilizes the flute of Frank Wess prominently. “Cute” (heard here in its initial recording) became a standard.

Liner Notes

SOME ARRANGERS SEEM made to order for certain bands. Don Redman and Benny Carter and Horace Henderson fitted a variety of organizations in the twenties and thirties in this way. Billy Strayhorn was obviously born to write for the Duke Ellington band as Sy Oliver was to write for Jimmie Lunceford and Fletcher Henderson for Benny Goodman. And now it seems that Neal Hefti has found his band in Count Basie and Count his composer and arranger in Neal.

Like Fletcher’s writing for Benny’s musicians, Neal’s suits the tastes and temperaments of the Basie men in every sort of detail. It provides settings for soloists which bring them out bar by bar, texture by texture, idea by idea as they rarely have been before. It is a style of scoring at least as much intuitive as it is instructed in the thinking and playing procedures of these jazzmen.

Some, either because of a similar set of likes and dislikes or because of his keen ear or considerable playing and writing experience, Neal knows the right figures to make Frand Wess blow his most forceful flute, Joe Newman his most swinging trumpet, Snookie Young his most soulful horn and Thad Jones his most elegant. One way or another, he has provided Marshall Royal with an adequate background for his large alto sound and given the Basie tenormen, Billy Mitchell and Frank Foster, a spacious alley in which to chase each other and found room for Al Grey’s big, guttural trombone pushes and pulls.

Altogether, this is a sounding record. As in the previous Basie collection in this series, the band has been brought back alive. It is again startling to hear the full power of the full band and to have again the dynamic brilliances of brass and reeds preserved intact. It is a wonderful experience to hear Frank Wess’s flute vibrating like the wind instrument it is and not at all overshadowed by the rest of this loud, proud band, and it is a considerable kick to be able to observe, in detail, the nuances of tone and minutiae of technique which separates the trumpet sounds of Snookie Young and Joe Newman and Thad Jones from each other. When Basie plays Hefti and is recorded this way, it is an event, one that I am pleased to able to salute.

BARRY ULANOV

The ‘Second Testament’

Basie reformed the jazz orchestra in 1952 for a series of tours, not only in the United States, but also in Europe in 1954 and Japan in 1963. The band released new recordings; some featuring guest singers such as Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine. All relied on contributions from arrangers, some of whom are now synonymous with the Basie band: Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones and Sammy Nestico. Michael G. Nastos wrote of the recording with Eckstine:

“When the Count Basie Orchestra consented to team up with vocalist Billy Eckstine, choruses of angels must have shouted hallelujah. The combination of Basie’s sweet jazz and Eckstine’s low-down blues sensibilities meshed well on this one-shot deal, a program mostly of downtrodden songs perfectly suited for the band and the man.”

This new band became known as “The Second Testament”. With albums such as The Atomic Mr. Basie (1958), April in Paris (1957) and Basie Plays Hefti (1958), the new Count Basie Orchestra sound became identifiable. The sound of the band was now that of a tight ensemble: heavier and more full bodied, contrasting with the riff-based band of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Whereas previously the emphasis had been on providing space for exemplary soloists such as Lester Young and Buck Clayton, now the focus had shifted to the arrangements, despite the presence of soloists such as trumpeter Thad Jones and saxophonist Frank Foster.