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The Everest Years by Woody Herman

The fifties, the era of Elvis and Pat Boone, would not be the best of times for Woody Herman and big band music. It was scuffling time and the band joked about being the un-Herd orchestra. Towards the end of the decade Woody signed a two-year contract with Everest Records, the source of this compilation.

"The Herd Rides Again" is a Herman hit parade, played by Herd alumni and other top-flight musicians.. They perform with swing and enthusiasm. Caldonia features that hard-driving brass section and Woody, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer and Nat Pierce. Just about everyone gets a solo turn on "Black Orchid," "Blowin' Up a Storm" and "Crazy Rhythm." Brookmeyer is at his most innovative on "Bijou," wisely keeping his distance from that Bill Harris solo that we can't get out of our heads.

The extracts from "Herman's Heat & Puente's Beat" are mostly by the band that Woody organized for a State Department tour of South America. Tito Puente and his rhythm provide plenty of Latin fire to send them off. There's some really fiery trumpet (unidentified) on "Latin Flight." Unfortunately,"Woodchoppers Ball" also makes an appearance. Please, not again!

Chubby Jackson leads a band of alumni and others in "Chubby Takes Over." It's a lightly-swinging group with a Basie flavor. Not too surprising as arrangers Nat Pierce and Ernie Wilkins had some responsibility for that flavor later on. Irving Markowitz and his trumpet are incendiary on Wilkins' arrangement of "Yes Indeed." The band climbs Brookmeyer's " Mt. Everest" with agility while Pierce's "It's Delovely" features fine section interplay. Pierce also wrote "Hail Hail the Herds All Here," an arrangement that builds and builds.

The collaboration between Charlie Byrd and the Herman band, "Bamba Samba Bossa Nova" (arrangements by Sid Feller) is a well-recorded gem. Byrd is superbly sensitive on Spanish guitar. especially on his "Original #2" - a lovely ballad contrasting emotional brass and pensive flutes.

This release ends with Stravinsky's provocative "Ebony Concerto." Difficult to play, and controversial, it was premiered at Carnegie Hall and recorded three times. This was the second. The last was just before Woody's death and featured Richard Stoltzman. Well worth listening to.

All in all, an interesting look at a brief period in Woody's long career. Woody, who survived everything except the IRS.

Note: Everest deserves thanks for using cardboard packaging. However, the otherwise helpful liner notes are in minuscule type with poor color contrast. Whomever is responsible should be made to read it all one hundred times!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Woody Herman
  • CD Title: The Everest Years
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Empire
  • Rating: Five Stars
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