The enobling sounds of the Count Basie Orchestra filled the Wax Museum nightclub last night as it kicked off with a well-oiled "Wind Machine" powered by the polished drumming of Gregg Field and featuring the blustery, authoritative tenor sax of Eric Schneider. The packed house -- old and young and in-between, black and white -- honored the patriarch of swing with standing ovations and enjoyed enormously the toe-tapping 4/4 beat and the tight section work.
Soloists abounded as they have throughout the nearly 50 years since the original unit took shape in Kansas City out of the fragments of the disbanded Benny Moten Orchestra. Dennis Wilson became a one-man trombone section on J.J. Johnson's "Lament" with fluttery trills, mastiff growls and some of the smoothest horn this side of Lawrence Brown. Other notable individual efforts were trumpeter Bob Summers' rapid-fingered sprays on "There'll Never Be Another You," Bobby Platter's luscious alto sax on "Pretty Girl" and the spidery muted trumpet of Sonny Cohn on "How Sweet It Is."
Booty Wood put a rubber plumber's helper in front of his trombone and produced every sound but speech. And Cleveland Eaton's double bass at times sounded like it was being wielded by a double person. Even Freddie Green, rock-solid rhythm guitarist with the band for 40-plus years, got in his one-chord solo, a perennial Basie joke. As for the leader, his keyboard style was, as ever, pared down to the essentials and then pared down some more.
One suggestion: Next time around, Wax Museum, please open with a local big band, not a stand-up comic whose lines were inspired by last night's TV and yesterday's newspaper.