Within a refined setting of easy listening pop ballads and lightly funky up-tempo selections produced by Al McKay, Henderson proves himself an assured vocalist with mastery of clarity and phrasing. The problem here is the material isn't challenging enough – it's often formulaic and derivative of other early-'80s releases. Even a contribution from Stevie Wonder, "Crush on You," wanders into oblivion. But the singer's debonair tone and elegant, polished diction makes the weaker sound stronger. A perfect example is the mid-tempo "I'd Rather Be Gone," which suffers from a sleepy melody and clichéd rhythm arrangement.
Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson's most famous recordings are his early Blue Notes and his more recent Verves, but in between he recorded exclusively for Milestone and, although Henderson was in consistently fine form in the diverse settings, he was somewhat neglected during his middle years. This massive eight-CD set contains all of the music from Henderson's dozen Milestone LPs, plus a duet with altoist Lee Konitz and his guest appearances with singer Flora Purim and cornetist Nat Adderley. The music ranges from Blue Note-style hard bop and modal explorations to fusion and '70s funk, with important contributions made by trumpeters Mike Lawrence, Woody Shaw, and Luis Gasca, trombonist Grachan Moncur III, and keyboardists Kenny Barron, Don Friedman, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, George Cables, Alice Coltrane, Mark Levine, and George Duke, among others.
This four-LP set, which is now also available as a three-CD box, is easily the definitive Fletcher Henderson package. Between 1923-38, Henderson's orchestra was one of the finest swing bands in the world, and during 1923-27 (until Duke Ellington's emergence) it was the first and the best. The arrangements of Don Redman in the early days set the pace for jazz; Benny Carter and Horace Henderson also wrote some important charts before Henderson himself finally developed into a major arranger in 1932. This Columbia set is not complete, but it includes 64 selections, at least 60 of them gems. This essential box (which contains three wonderful versions of "King Porter Stomp") belongs in everyone's jazz collection.