|Drummer Louis Bellson|
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Count Basie in Stockholm with Louis Bellson, 1962
In 1962, drummer Sonny Payne was involved in a car accident and had to bow out of the Count Basie orchestra's impending tour of Sweden, forcing the Count to find a suitable replacement quickly. And a suitable bench man he did find when he hired the great Louis Bellson for the tour, which took the band all over Sweden, playing mostly in small towns but also in bigger cities like Gothenburg, Malmö, and of course, Stockholm. In the Swedish capital, Basie and his crew played a five-night engagement at Gröna Lunds Tivoli, which included both a nightly concert and a session strictly for dancers. Someone at Roulette Records had the good presence of mind to tape some of the music played at these sessions for dancers, and some of these tracks appeared on Basie in Sweden, which turned out to be Basie's final LP for the label—and a very enjoyable one at that.
At these more informal sessions, the band sounds extremely relaxed, inspired to take exciting solos, and properly propelled by Bellson's high-octane drumming. Though perhaps not quite as explosive as Payne, Bellson has a very personal flair for swinging, and his drumming always sounds classy and elegant. This later edition of the Atomic Basie band features a lineup full of legendary sidemen, among them reedmen Frank Wess and Frank Foster, trumpeters Thad Jones and Benny Bailey, trombonists Benny Powell and Ake Persson, and guitarist Freddie Green. As one would expect, there's plenty of swing to go around, from the album opener, "Little Pony," to its closer, "Peace Pipe," and many others in between ("Corner Pocket," "Splanky," "Four, Five Six"). It's almost a cliche now to describe the Basie outfit as a well-oiled swinging machine, and these recordings provide ample proof that there's a lot of truth behind that cliche. But the band can also take it easy whenever necessary, as on the rather subdued reading of Neal Hefti's "Plymouth Rock" or on the standard "April in Paris," the latter with some fine contributions by Thad Jones. Duke Ellington's "In a Mellotone" is another highlight of a live album full of highlights, and Basie even has room to spotlight vocalist Irene Reid's bluesy tribute to Bessie Smith on "Backwater Blues." The 1991 CD reissue, which has some very informative liner notes by Basie bio-discographer Chris Sheridan, includes four previously unreleased tracks, but the music is so good that it still leaves you hungry for more from this unique teaming of Basie and Bellson.