At present, no one can touch 32jazz for compilations: drawn from a deep catalog, they are always well-packaged and always entertaining. What's different this time is the subject: instead of a style (Bebop) or a mood (Jazz for the Quiet Times), this one covers a concept. And a pretty broad one: defining "swing" is about as easy as defining "jazz". So let's clear the table: we hear no big bands, and no zoot-suited youngsters doing jump blues. The music spans decades, live or in studio, ordered or loose, dignified or funky? So what's there in common? A solid drive, a strong execution, a well-defined sense of musicality. In other words, swing. And if you gotta ask you'll never know.
Swing comes in all sizes, and from directions that'll surprise you. Take the opener, here is Eddie Harris, before his status as funkster. "Sandpiper" moves softly, a laid-back hum attached to big chords. The power is Cedar Walton; the grace is Harris, staying on theme and laying on charm. The feeling grows on "Samba", where strings interplay and Milt Jackson glistens. It's the MJQ but it's really Laurindo Almeida, a stellar job that redefines "guest". Hearing him react to Percy Heath is a joy; likewise John Lewis, who has a cocktail solo! And one piano leads to another: it's Red Garland, with block chords aplenty. A pace that won't quit, and a powerful riff to send us home. If that's not swing I don't know what is.
From easy to greasy: the midsection has funk, and a toughness to spare. Sonny Criss rips a fierce "All the Things"; tangy vibrato on percussive piano. Dolo Coker is a force to be reckoned with, and don't forget Sonny - whose tone makes that unlikely. "Little Sister" isn't the Presley tune, and Elvis ain't anywhere near the building. It's a big smoky strut, and Fathead manages to drown out an organ! Check the fills of Ted Dunbar, sadly underrated; marvel at Fathead, and wonder why he doesn't have more of a jazz rep. He was with Ray Charles at the time; "Boo's Tune" has the whole unit, minus its leader. Led by Hank Crawford, everyone gets a turn on this closing-time blues (Hog Cooper - yeah!) This "Boo" is so good it's scary. "I Can Dig It" is Les McCann and a big ol' riff - you need anything else? And "Groove" Holmes - the name says it. Here he does Ellington with a delicious lope; Houston Person wails to the heavens, which you thank for a groove this fine. Music fit for a barbecue - and how it sizzles!
The last set is a compromise of the first two, joining precision to strength - conventional swing, as it were. Busy keys bring "If I Were a Bell", which is carried by dueling horns. Woody Shaw is full-throated beauty - plus you get Steve Turre's mute! Quite a "Bell"; this should ring forever. The band astounds on "I Mean You"; this much sound from a quintet? Hank Jones is the understated leader; Charlie Rouse, Monk master, is a natural for this tune. Same with the finale: Cedar Walton, who played on the first recording of "Naima", takes it slow on this trio version. The crowd is unreceptive as Cedar weaves a web of sound - part Tyner, all lovely. The crowd might not appreciate it, but you will; the same with this album. Many styles and players, one aim - joy. And swing; if its definition stays elusive, it's here in abundance. That much is obvious - and delightful.