Trombonist Vic Dickenson was one of the many ex-Count Basie sidemen that Vanguard Records producer John Hammond cut in a variety of configurations in the mid-fifties in his peak period of activity for the label. One other key album that featured Vic's playing as part of The Count Basie Bunch was “Too Marvelous For Words” (Vanguard Masters VCD 79601) a full description of which can be found on this website. This album, however, puts Vic absolutely centre stage, and has been compiled from two original long player issues: “Vic Dickenson Showcase Vol 1” (1953) and “Vol 2” (1954), with five tracks coming from each with each track featuring eight musicians.
Even to the untutored ear, there is an immediate aspect of the playing that becomes evident. Here was a group of players who were very much at ease with each other, all happy to fit their own work around the others. There are no moments when you feel any jockeying for position or any scoring of points in any form of showing off. This was in part due to the mutual respect they already had for each other, but would have been helped by the fact that the sessions for the tracks were not time-limited or pre-planned to any great degree. They just went in and played together and the end results exude a relaxed and happy atmosphere that is infectious. The opening track ‘Russian Lullaby’, for example, runs for over nine minutes and allows all the key soloists to stretch out, with Vic's own time matching Edmond Hall's clarinet, Ruby Braff's trumpet and Sir Charles Thompson's piano. A similar feel of enjoyment of each other's playing is found on the latter's album “For The Ears” (Vanguard Jazz Masters VCD 79604, also available here), and indeed there are two fine Thompson-penned tracks here, ‘Sir Charles At Home’ and ‘I Cover The Waterfront’, with this second one being especially moodful with the trumpet and clarinet painting beautiful late-night scenarios that allow Dickenson himself to play an extended solo towards the end that underlines the warmth of tone and subtlety that he was able to get from his instrument. Quite simply, it is marvelous to experience.
The only changes of personnel on the tracks comes with Jo Jones taking over the drum chair from Les Erskine and Shad Collins coming in on trumpet for the final five, though Ruby Braff does remain on two of them. Immediately ‘Runnin' Wild’ changes the mood as its frenetic pace prompts a very different feel. ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ then delivers more of a trad jazz feel, before we are treated to three longer tracks, ‘Old Fashioned Love’, ‘Everybody Loves My Baby’ and ‘Suspension Blues’ that all exhibit finesse and warm expressive playing throughout. Producer Hammond allowed and actively promoted a studio atmosphere designed to bring out the best in the musicians individually and collectively, and this album is proof that his approach could bear some very rich fruit.