Notwithstanding such notable research and narrative as presented by Ted Gioia in his book West Coast Jazz, this period denoted largely by geographic location is still significantly one of the most misunderstood in all of jazz history. This is probably due to the fact that your average fan associates the "cool school" with just about anything that emanated from the West Coast. In reality, there were as many genres and formats being explored by our California neighbors as by their peers on the East Coast. It should be stated however that the "cool" sound was a vital part of the West Coast jazz community and was fostered primarily by white musicians with a lighter and more cerebral approach.
Although Stan Kenton claimed popularity throughout the United States, many of his key band members were associated with the "cool groups" and thanks to the wise prodding of Kenton a few of these men would receive a wonderful format in which to display their wares- namely the "Kenton Presents" series. This subsidiary of Capitol Records lasted a short time but during its reign produced several memorable sessions, of which a well-reasoned few are collected in this new 4-CD boxed set. In addition to their ties with the Kenton band, multi-reed player Bob Cooper, trombonist Frank Rosolino, and saxophonist/arranger Bill Holman are surely three of the finest "cool" players of the period and each of them produced work of lasting value in their respective releases for the "Kenton Presents" imprimatur.
Featured in his performances here on tenor sax, oboe, and English Horn, Bob Cooper was a transplanted Pennsylvanian who worked the West Coast with Kenton, Bud Shank, and wife June Christie throughout the '40s, '50s, and '60s. 19 of the cuts heard on disc one of this set come from 1954 and 1955 and were originally issued as the 10" LP Kenton Presents Bob Cooper and the 12" LP "Kenton Presents: Shifting Winds." There is a strong "chamber jazz" quality present, with tight arrangements that often opt for a collective sound that in some ways is closer to contemporary classical music than to jazz. Name players abound, including Mel Lewis, Bud Shank, Jimmy Giuffre, Buddy Collette, Curtis Counce, and Shelly Manne. For a slightly more aggressive sound, disc four closes with five Cooper charts from 1961 that originally appeared on his half of the album spotlighting tunes from the Broadway musical Do-Re-Me. There's more sass and spirit here and Cooper's warm tenor work is a real treat, although there's still a campy quality present that slightly dates the music.
About one and a half discs are devoted to the hugely underrated talents of trombonist Frank Rosolino. For the record, the original albums covered here are 1954's Kenton Presents Frank Rosolino and 1955's Kenton Presents: Shifting Winds. Often left out when examining the history of the trombone in jazz, Rosolino's personal life (he killed his son and himself in a murder-suicide) often overshadows his musical triumphs, and that's when he's even remembered! A veteran of the LA studio scene and the house band at the Lighthouse, Rosolino had a pungent and brassy sound that recalled Curtis Fuller and his agility in handling the hairpin turns of bebop was something to marvel at. Indeed, there's much fine up tempo work heard from the trombonist here and there's much less of the thoroughly-composed writing that marks the Cooper dates, but then that's probably due to the fine arranging skills of Bill Holman (more on him in just a bit) and the cast of players which includes Charlie Mariano, Stan Levey, Pete Jolly, Sam Noto, and several others.
It should in no way take from the contributions of Cooper and Rosolino to suggest that this new package is really most valuable for restoring some of Bill Holman's finest work. Still very much active and revered, Holman is the native Californian who made a name for himself through the distinguished writing he lent to the books of Kenton, Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, and many more. Aside from the eight performances that were originally released as Kenton Presents Bill Holman, the real discovery here is the unearthing of two previously unissued performances from the same 1954 sessions that produced that album, along with eight never-before-heard pieces from two dates in 1955 (including four cuts that feature Holman's tenor with just a rhythm section of Carl Perkins, Leroy Vinnegar, and Larry Bunker).
The contrast in writing styles is made abundantly clear as one devours Holman's '50s charts. Getting away from the linear approach favored by Rosolino and Cooper, Holman voices across sections and clearly has a well- developed sense of orchestral harmony. This trait only becomes clearer in focus when examining 1960's Great Big Band album, which incidentally did not show up under the Kenton banner (the "Kenton Presents" series had been closed down by Capitol much earlier due to financial concerns). This masterpiece of modern big band writing has been unavailable far too long and is really worth the entire price of admission just to hear it at last on CD and in all its exquisite grandeur.
A finely assembled and aesthetic package, the material on this boxed set has been out-of-print for quite some time and its appearance on disc has been long overdue. And thanks to state-of-the-art recording techniques present on the original Capitol sides, sound quality is sterling throughout. The stereo spread experienced on Holman's Great Big Band is especially holographic. Highlighted by a number of session photos as seen through the lenses of William Claxton, Ray Avery, and Roy Harte, the 16-page booklet that is standard with every Mosaic set includes session-by-session commentary from pianist and arranger Sy Johnson. In conclusion, Mosaic has come up with a set that will please jazz fans from a variety of different camps with the further benefit of giving us a much deserved reevaluation of the greatness of Cooper, Rosolino, and Holman. Limited to 5,000 copies worldwide, you can only order Mosaic products by writing them at 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut, 06902. You can also visit them on the web at www.mosaicrecords.com.