I used to think this Les Brown guy was some old square big band guy because my youthful memories of him are inextricably entwined with his longtime association with good ol’ Bob Hope (...and His Band of Renown!). Little did I know.... then this package came my way to set me onto the Path o’ Knowledge. True, Les Brown was no Basie or Goodman, nor a Lunceford or a Kenton, but he did
have a tight, swinging, thoroughly enjoyable, jazz-charged dance band of the "big" variety, loaded with exhilaratingly clever arrangements, wailing solos, fast tempos and surprisingly decent (i.e., not bland, drippy, overly whitebread) vocals. Best of the Rare....
is drawn from the L.B. Orchestra’s sojourn with Okeh Records (a division of Columbia) 1941-1950. Brown’s take on "Carioca" is taken at a dizzying pace, with boisterous solos and brain-twisting ensemble playing with more twists ‘n’ turns than Frank Booth’s psyche. There are gently mocking, joyously jive-y novelties (in the Louis Jordan/Louis Prima sense - or for younger listeners, the Asylum St. Spankers/Cherry Poppin’ Daddies sense) such as "In My Merry Oldsmobile" and "Everybody’s Making Money But Tchaikovsky." And Les was hip: he covered "Turkey Hop," a "Turkey In The Straw"-based juke-joint hunk o’ riff-o-rama, written by R&B bandleader/icon Johnny Otis.
Les Brown was no innovator, but he had class and could swing up a storm, and was one of the few bandleaders whose band prospered after the sun set on the glory days of the Swing Era. The only downside of this rather generous package (77 min., and excellent sound quality) is the lack of personnel information, aside from the singers and trumpet soloist Billy Butterfield.... but I guess ya can’t have everything. Still: recommended!