Buck Clayton – Complete Legendary Jam Sessions: Master Takes ★★★★★

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Buck Clayton, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Billy Butterfield (t), Ruby Braff (cnt), Urbie Green, Benny Powell, Henderson Chambers, Trummy Young, Bennie Green, Dicky Harris, JC Higginbotham (tb), Tyree Glenn (tb, vib), Woody Herman (clt), Lem Davis (as), Julian Dash, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate (ts), Charlie Fowlkes (bar s), Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Jones, Billy Kyle (p, cel), Al Waslohn, Kenny Kersey (p), Freddie Green, Steve Jordan (g), Walter Page, Milt Hinton (b), Jo Jones, Bobby Donaldson (d), Jack Ackerman (tap dance) and Jimmy Rushing (v). Rec. 14 Dec 1953, 16 Dec 1953, 31 Mar 1954, 13 Aug 1954, 15 Mar 1955 and 5 Mar 1956

Three CDs in a cardboard slip-case, just another public domain release by an Andorra-based label and largely lifted from the definitive Mosaic box set at a guess, even down to the un-credited re-use of session photographs mostly from the Frank Driggs Collection. Oh well, and that said, it’s still magic music and finger-licking good at that. Take a glance at the collective personnel listed above and what you’ll see is a kind of buyer’s guide to the best swing soloists of the day, their skills honed in pre-bop big bands, albeit with something of a bias towards the Basie manner, viz the rhythm section.

Largely the idea of entrepreneur John Hammond and producer George Avakian and designed to exploit the stretched-out potential of the newly popular long-playing record, these sessions were conceived as a homage to the jam sessions of yore, the personnel choices and skeletal arrangements assigned to leader Clayton. I well remember the first of the Columbia LPs appearing c.1954 and marvelling at ‘Robbins Nest’ which occupied the entire first side and ‘The Huckle-Buck’ on the other and playing them to destruction. Aside from the terse yet swingy pianisms of Sir Charles, one loved the way each player locked in and ran with the theme, riffs behind them, and of course, at the emergence of the previouslyunheralded soloists like Urbie Green, Fowlkes and Dash who flowered in this congenial situation. And that’s how it goes through some three-and-a-half hours of near-perfect mainstream. Add to these, the equally potent Vanguard sessions that also appeared around this time (again at Hammond’s instigation) and you have the well-spring for the world-wide mainstream revival. More to the point, you have Clayton, a major Basie stylist, in his element with likeminded companions. A certainty for the best-of-the year reissue category.

– Peter Vacher