This collection secures the legacy (pardon the pun) of not only some Great American Music, Ancient To Our Future, but also a rather pivotal era in America's - and the world's - musical history. This 2-CD set compiles the many sides that Woody Herman & His Herd laid down for Columbia in the years 1945-47. Those years were The Beginning Of The End of the big band era as well as marking jazz's transition from Popular Music to High Art. Pop singers were the rage (whereas during the Swing Era, they were more or less "featured" performers), jump-blues (i.e., Louis Jordan, Lucky Millander) was catching on as dance music with young urban hipsters and this Strange New Music that some called bebop (for listening rather than dancing) was making waves in the big cities of NY and Los Angeles. Yet this Herman character decided to not only buck these massive changes, but also bend them to his will (if you can't join 'em, beat 'em), fashioning one of the last great big bands of the era, one that clearly stands the test of time.
Clarinetist/alto saxophonist/occasional vocalist Woody Herman was no fool. Some (bandleader/saxophonist Charlie Barnet, for one) have accused Herman of being an opportunist, of going whichever way the prevailing musical winds are blowing, but I think it's a mark of Herman's openness to what's going on around him, of taking notes from What's Goin' On around him and putting it in an exciting new context. The ingredients to Herman's stew included blues, Duke Ellington, bop, R&B/jump-blues, Tin Pan Alley pop and 20th century classical music (Igor Stravinsky himself composed "Ebony Concerto" for Herman's Herd, included here). The result was a rollicking yet forward-looking big band that swung like a mofo. He had some of the best hepcats around to help him realize his vision: Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Dave Tough, Jimmy Rowles, Buddy Rich, Margie Hyams and the Charlie Parker of the trombone, Bill Harris. I could go track-by-track, but why bother? You'll want to find and savor the good times for yourself, but journalistic ethics calls upon me to enumerate some choice high points: the mad, we're-gonna-die-tomorrow-so-let's-blow-it-out-tonight swing of "Apple Honey" and the title tune (two cups of aural double cappuccino); the good-timey rib-joint jive of "Fan It"; the knotty "Goosey Gander"; the strictly genteel, rococo "Lady McGowan's Dream," with its luscious alto sax and echoes of The Duke and Artie Shaw. Not only is Blowin' Up A Storm a valuable Document Of Jazz History (wonderful sound quality), but a Party Waiting To Happen, to boot.