Friday, 14 September 2012

12. Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra: 1930 - 1932

To borrow a football (soccer) expression, this is an album of two halves. The first half of these recordings were made between 1930 and 1931. The final ten tracks were recorded at a single session on December 13th 1932. Both sets are excellent and are a great representation of where jazz music was heading for the rest of the decade. However the inclusion by Moten of bassist Walter Page on the December session really elevates these songs into jazz history. It didn't hurt that he also employed a young Ben Webster to blow some tenor sax as well.

Bennie Moten's recording career from 1923 to 1932 is a perfect microcosm of the jazz world from those eras. His first recordings in 1923 were influenced by ragtime. Three years later his recordings would echo the more sophisticated sounds made popular by the incredibly famous Fletcher Henderson. Yet it was while touring incessantly with Kansas City Orchestra around the "territories" in the late 20's that Moten developed a more unique sound. The riffing style that he popularised was to become the hallmark of swing jazz in the mid 30's.

Another incredibly popular territory band of the time was The Blue Devils, led by bassist Walter Page. Many of the musicians that played with The Blue Devils were to become very famous in late years, including Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, Eddie Durham, Oran "Hot Lips" Page and Count Basie himself. Rather than do battle with this band, Moten decided to simply offer them better contracts and so over time many of them came over to the Kansas City Orchestra. Page himself joined in 1931 after he could no longer keep the band intact. Page's bass style was nothing short of revolutionary and as such completely changed the sound of Moten's band and sowed the seeds of the sound that would become synonymous with The Count Basie Orchestra a few years later.

The December session would include artists who would go on to make up the Count Basie Orchestra in 1936. Walter Page's impact was immediate and his walking bass style jumps out of the album from "Toby" onwards. Freeing up Basie's left hand meant that his trademark light piano style would mark a decisive shift away from the busy stride piano style popular in the 20's. "Moten Swing" was Bennie Moten's most famous track. It's riff style was to become emblematic of the big band sound of the 1930's and well beyond. The Rat Pack and the Las Vegas scene of the early 60's would have sounded very different without the influence of this track. The brass section simply jumps off the record. Hot Lips Page's solo was notable for being remarkably un-Armstrong in its approach. His solo in the wonderful "Lafayette" was also nothing short of superb.

This is an great album that demonstrates a music in flux and is a great showcase for early Basie.

1     The Count
2     Liza Lee
3     Get Goin' (Get Ready To Love)
4     Professor Hot Stuff
5     When I'm Alone
6     New Moten Stomp
7     As Long As I Love You (Jeannette)
8     Somebody Stole My Gal
9     Now That I Need You
10   Bouncin' Round
11   Ya Got Love
12   I Wanna Be Around My Baby All The Time
13   Toby
14   Moten Swing
15   The Blue Room
16   Imagination
17   New Orleans
18   The Only Girl I Ever Loved
19   Milenberg Joys
20   Lafayette
21   Prince Of Wails
22   Two Times

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