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Music Review: Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Frank Sinatra & Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings

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The Concord Music Group, in conjunction with Frank Sinatra Enterprises, has been reissuing the Frank Sinatra Reprise label catalogue. Their latest release gives you two albums for the price of one. Both of his albums with Count Basie, 1962’s Sinatra – Basie: An Historic Musical First and 1964’s It Might As Well Be Swing have been combined onto one CD release. Frank Sinatra & Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings was released September 13, 2011.

When Sinatra and Basie went into the recording studio together, they were already giants of the music industry. Basie’s career began during the mid-1920s, and by the mid-1930s he had assembled his first band. At the time of his death during 1984, Basie had become one of the respected and legendary band and orchestra leaders in American music history. Sinatra became a music idol as the lead singer with the Harry James Orchestra (1939-1940) and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (1940-1942). His solo career lasted from 1942 until near his death in 1998. He sold millions of singles and albums and was recognized as an American icon.

Count Basie and Frank Sinatra were a perfect match, as the band leader and the singer complimented each other in style, sound, and professionalism. Sinatra easily fit into the singing style of Basie’s band, as the majority of the material is presented in a relaxed and swinging tempo.

Both artists were masters of phrasing and tempos but from different viewpoints. Basie was accomplished and wise enough not to intrude on Sinatra’s vocals. His band filled in the gaps and provided the intros and escapes. Their material achieved a balance of power that was rare for two musical superstars.

Basie was one of a very few artists who matched Sinatra’s flexibility. Sinatra had a style that could not be imitated and many times interpreted songs by feel, rather than any formalized advance planning. Basie and his band were able to adapt as they went along.

The material was typical of most Sinatra albums as songs from the Great American Songbook shared the limelight with those from films and a few modern favorites. Songs such as “Pennies From Heaven,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” “The Good Life,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and others all succumbed to the unique Basie/Sinatra combination. Sinatra had recorded some of the songs previously but here they took on new dimensions and textures.

The sound is crisp and clear, which enhances the listening experience from previous reissues of this material. Bill Dahl wrote an essay of the history of the music, which is included in the accompanying booklet. An informative interview with Quincy Jones, who provided the arrangements for the It Might As Well Be Swing music, is also included.

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie will not pass this way again and so we are left with these two albums worth of music. Frank Sinatra & Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings is a fitting tribute to one of the better duet projects of the era.

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