One of the things you notice about these four discs is that although Artie Shaw was a very fine clarinetist, as a band leader he could be pretty destructive. He would have a band for a while, but then, instead of developing it, he would get rid of it and start again a few months later with something completely different, and the process would repeat itself time and time again. This set covers his career from 1936 to 1954 with various bands none of which were any better at the end than they were at the beginning. The first disc starts with some tracks by a band consisting of four horns plus rhythm plus a string quartet. It's very attractive, with a slight dixieland feel, but no significant soloists apart from Shaw himself. This is then replaced by a big swing band, which takes up the rest of the disc. Shaw is still the most significant soloist, the arrangements are fairly simple, but there is a fine rhythm section including Cliff Leeman on drums. It has to be said that Shaw's bands always had good rhythm sections. The same band with only slight variations continues throughout the second disc. The band is very competent, arrangements continue to feature the tune, (a plus point because the inter war period was probably the golden age of the American popular song and it is a pleasure to hear some of these songs played relatively straight), and Shaw continues to be the only major soloist. On disc three all this is abandoned. The band features a large string section, the original Gramercy Five tracks appear with Billy Butterfield and Johnny Guarneri, and the band arrangements become much more dramatic. Also featured on some of the later tracks is Hot Lips Page, although to these ears he feels slightly out of his comfort zone. Disc four is a bit of a curate's egg. There are some straightforward big band tracks from 1945, the Gramercy Five tracks from the same year with Roy Eldridge and Dodo Marmoroso, some string laden tracks with Mel Torme and the Meltones, and lastly the 1954 Gramercy Five tracks with Hank Jones and Tal Farlow. The earlier tracks feature exciting solo work by Roy Eldridge. Nothing really is missed out, all the hits are here, Shaw was a fine clarinetist with a full tone and the bands were never less than competent. If you want a fairly detailed look at Shaw, this is clearly the set to get. Benny Goodman knocks spots off him, but that's just my opinion.
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