Frank Sinatra & Count Basie – The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings (CD review)

Frank Sinatra & Count Basie – The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings (Frank Sinatra Enterprises / Concord Music Group) CD review

Considering that Frank Sinatra and Count Basie were two of the biggest names in the Big Band era, it seems unthinkable that they never crossed paths during that time.  It wasn’t until Sinatra was running his own label in the early Sixties that he reached out to the Basie band.  The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings compiles the two albums they made together (Sinatra-Basie: An Historical First, from 1962, and It Might as Well Be Swing, from 1964).

Sinatra always surrounded himself with great arrangers, like Axel Stordahl, Nelson Riddle, and Billy May.  Yet, the music he made with them more often emphasized polish over swing.  That’s what makes the teaming of Sinatra and Basie so special; there’s grit in the delivery and groove in the rhythm.  The first thing you notice is the blaring horns and swingin’ beat, signatures of the classic Basie orchestra.  Sinatra seems absolutely swept up in the affair – seeming to smile through the entire “(Love is) The Tender Trap,” all the while singing way behind the beat, while the version here of “Learning the Blues” has a lot more blues in it than the original on Capitol, and includes an excellent flugelhorn break. The first ten tracks, arranged by Neal Hefti, lean heavy on classic compositions like “Pennies From Heaven,” “I Won’t Dance,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”  Probably the only thing dating these to the Sixties is the use of flute as a prominent solo instrument.

The remaining half of the disc showcases the second pairing of Sinatra/Basie with legendary producer Quincy Jones taking over the arranging, which concentrates on some of the more contemporary songs of the day, including the Bacharach/David “Wives and Lovers,” as well as Louis Armstrong’s recent comeback “Hello, Dolly!” One of the standouts is his rendering of the Ray Charles’ standard “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” where Sinatra hits an effective blue note when he sings “Ain’t no use to TRY.”  Probably the most famous track from their union is “The Best is Yet to Come,” where Basie’s band expertly accents the off beats, while Sinatra swings effortlessly over top.  The fact is, his early sides cut for Columbia and Capitol were aimed strictly at the pop market, while the music he began making for his own label was what he wanted to do from the start.  One of his biggest influences was the great Billie Holiday, who practically invented the art of singing behind the beat.  Finally, he finds himself able to let loose on these sessions.  Few artists continued to grow well beyond their initial success quite like Sinatra.  Sinatra & Basie – the Complete Reprise Recordings is proof that he was getting better with age.  –Tony Peters