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Anyone who ever played in the Count Basie Orchestra probably considers themselves extraordinarily fortunate, privy to the worldwide explosion of swing and the delirious art of the so-called “jazz age.” Here, a group of the veterans gather, with the legendary singer Joe Williams at the helm, for a concert at the Brussels Jazz Club in 1981. Williams, however, doesn’t come in until half-way through, leaving the band to their own devices on famous tracks such as “Stardust” and “Little Pony.” If that were all the concert offered it would be more than enough – each musician is capable of exquisite solos and they swing the audience into a beautiful stupor even before one word is sung.
Later the front man adds an injection of elegance to proceedings through his long-held notes that swell and vibrate, while his voice cracks and low-end snarls put the root of the blues on display for all to see. It is this duality that made Williams great, and he sings well-known songs that epitomize the jazz oral tradition, their original composers’ names lost and reinterpretation being the order of the day. It’s a show that lulls you into the dust and romance of the American past: “This tune comes from the pen of a man I don’t know but its about a sawmill … a fella who worked awfully hard and wasn’t happy with his lady.”