On Tuesday this week (Sept 6) Concord Records released Frank Sinatra – Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings as a remastered compilation of two of the most interesting Sinatra records in his vast catalog — Sinatra-Basie: An Historic Musical First and It Might as Well Be Swing are artfully rendered into a single 20 track masterpiece that pays tribute to the too brief and truly historic union of Frank out in front of Count Basie and his amazing band.

Remastering these recordings was a bit worrisome to me because they were laid down so well in the original Reprise album releases. After spending several hours listening to and comparing this new release with the original albums, I need not have worried — the folks at Concord, BluWave Audio and the sundry engineers involved in this effort absolutely nailed it!

A Masterful Remaster…

One of the principle areas I focus on when reviewing a digital remastered album is … “can I discern a quality difference”. In other words, can you actually hear and appreciate the end product of the remastering effort. I mean, what’s the point of remastering if you can’t hear a noticeable quality benefit.

In the early years of digital media (CDs),”remastering” was a marketing term that suggested a better experience to get us all juiced about purchasing CDs to replace our vinyl albums. But as often as not the remastering that was done was not especially … well, masterful. In fact in many cases those early ham handed attempts resulted in a noticeably WORSE version of the original recordings … “flattening” the music depth and vocals, and washing out the sound stage. The team that took on Sinatra and Basie’s best were truly masterful … I mean these guys are freaking audio Jedi masters.

Frank…

There is a subtle, noticeable and beneficial “rounding” of Frank’s vocals. To be clear, the original recordings are in no way deficient — in fact they are excellent — but Frank’s entries, exits and tonal quality on this edition experiences a definite depth of field enhancement.

Again, it is subtle but Sinatra’s amazing vocal stylings on these classic Basie Band recordings sound deep and round without ANY dissociative effects. There is no sense that the vocals have been over enhanced or “punched up” in a way … no notion that they stand apart from the music. The vocal/music integration remains beautifully interlaced.

Basie…

The audio engineering Jedi mastering really hits home with Basie’s music. Like the vocals, the original albums were laid down really well, so making improvements must have been a challenge, but the engineers rose to that challenge and hit the music tracks out of the park.

It’s sort of tough to say it in words (go get this album!) but here goes. The original sound stage (instrument positioning) was excellent but gets even more positional clarity with enhancements to virtually every instrument in Basie’s band. Maybe the biggest positive impact is with Basie’s piano which now arrives naturally clear and more forward by just the right amount.

Additional big benefits are heard in the sax, the bass and the flute … the entries and exits on the sax are clear, round and beautiful and you can damn near hear the bassist fingers on the strings. The numbers with that lilting flute … wow. All natural and crisp in the mid tones and absolutely no mud on the low end.

The Track list…

We haven’t even talked about the material on this album! Well, since it’s a compilation of two records made back in the ’60s that I’m guessing most of you are very aware of or already own, I wanted to focus on the remastering and the value difference between this album and the originals. That said, for the sake of completeness…

The first ten songs on The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings album are from the 1962 classic album Sinatra-Basie: An Historic Musical First; with tracks 11-20 coming from the followup album Sinatra and Count Basie made (with Quincy Jones) in 1964 It Might as Well Be Swing. A more beautiful array of Sinatra classics you will not find…

  1. Pennies from Heaven – (classic Frank stylings with that fine Basie band … sax, horns, bass Ahhh)
  2. Please Be Kind – (Basie’s piano rides through the horns so perfectly)
  3. [Love Is] The Tender Trap – (great movie — better song … Frank’s vocals and the trumpet … and bass … oh my)
  4. Looking at the World thru Rose Colored Glasses – (elegant flute with Basie’s piano and a “saxy” hot up tempo)
  5. My Kind of Girl – (GREAT bass and saucy drums … Frank and Basie’s piano dance together .. so cool flute)
  6. I Only Have Eyes For You – (This is THE classic as I know this song… the last “and” Frank sings is killer)
  7. Nice Work if You Can Get It – (Frank and the band on a jaunty swing)
  8. Learnin’ the Blues – (definite big band/bandstand feel with that lilting flute and a swinging finish)
  9. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter – (wicked quick tempo separates this from Dean’s classic)
  10. I Won’t Dance – (flute and sax-a-thon … VS_guy favorite because — to my poor wife’s lament — the VS_guy don’t dance!)
  11. Fly Me To The Moon – (great middle/end with Frank and the Basie band)
  12. I Wish You Love – (One of my absolute favorite songs; one of the few songs with strings on the album the perfect melding of these two giants — “hot damn, I wish you love!”)
  13. I Believe in You – (another classic version to me but I think Frank’s vocal track is a little too far back on this song in the beginning … the one flaw in this album from my perspective)
  14. More [Theme from Mondo Cane] – (another strings song and a classic rendering of the song)
  15. I Can’t Stop Loving You – (Owned by Ray and rented by Frank … one of the few Frank country plays … this version has enough swing’n Frank style to separate from Ray’s classic rendering
  16. Hello, Dolly – (with a nested tribute to Louis Armstrong, Frank delivers my favorite version of this song … the band strikes it up and brings it home)
  17. I Wanna Be Around – (Another all-time favorite song … Basie kicks the band in big time for the finish)
  18. The Best Is Yet to Come – (this song lays so well as a band number and Basie Band wails … this is THE classic version)
  19. The Good Life – (subtle guitar/sax intertwining warms up to the full band
  20. Wives and Lovers – (a great swinging Frank version of one of my favorites from the “Co-dependent Top Ten”… it!)

Conclusion…

The bottom line is Sinatra & Basie’s The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings album is definitely worth snaring — even if you already own the full Sinatra-Basie collection. The discernible quality difference translates into an enhanced listening experience that I think is well worth the $14 asking price.

Interestingly, I could not find The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings in any digital media incarnation. Neither iTunes nor Amazon’s MP3 store offer the album at this writing, and I had no luck with MOG or Spotify either … might just be too new but even the CD is the only way to get it, definitely get it! (The liner notes are pretty cool anyway providing both original liners from the respective original albums plus a new liner for the remaster).

 

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