Shelly Manne & His Men At The Black Hawk
The challenges for Manne on both versions of “Step Lightly” are to keep things moving and sustain an easygoing groove for long periods of time (the tracks are 12:38 and 14:13, respectively). He does this very effectively in part by adhering to the basics of steady time, clearly defined sticking and footwork and, most of all, a willingness to listen and lock into Budwig’s line. Manne possesses a very large bag of tricks—he doles them out patiently and selectively. During Kamuca’s first chorus (Volume 2, Track 1) he lays back and allows us to appreciate the warmth of Budwig’s walking, judiciously adding snare drum accents (a good fit with one of the tenor saxophonist’s repeated phrases), some eighth-note triplets to the ride cymbal, as well as single strokes to a partially opened hi-hat. A few nicely placed hits to the mounted tom-tom indicate a building of intensity for Kamuca’s second chorus, and Manne follows with a rim knock on the fourth beat of each measure that, in terms of timbre, meshes with the slap of the hi-hat pedal on 2 and 4. As if to throw off the chains of this intentionally rigid pattern, he changes the hi-hat rhythm for several measures, playing the second and third beats of a quarter note triplet, briefly creating the illusion of accelerating the tempo when in reality everything stays in place.
By Manne’s somewhat conservative standards, the head of an up-tempo version of Tadd Dameron’s “Our Delight” (Volume 1, Track 2) is exceptionally busy and assertive. Moving around the drums with abandon, Manne sounds like he’s riding herd over a big band, reminding us of the years spent in Stan Kenton’s behemoth ensemble. Aggressively nailing the contours of Dameron’s composition, it’s one of those rare instances on the Black Hawk sides when he challenges the front line instruments. During the “A” section he fills all of the space left by Gordon and Kamuca with variations of fast single stroke rolls to the snare and toms. He briefly lets up on the bridge and plays straight time, but then adds exaggerated shots to the bass drum in unison with the horns. After busting loose again on a repeat of the “A” section Manne does an about face for Kamuca’s solo, reverting to a more conventional—but no less effective—timekeeping role. Manne lowers his volume and sparingly integrates terse snare and bass drum combinations into the steady ride cymbal and hi-hat rhythms. In the middle of the tenor saxophonist’s second chorus, he introduces a hopping, riff-like figure to the bass drum, and repeats it later on during Gordon’s turn. Another simple but propulsive device is Manne’s riding one cymbal for a period of time then switching to another. The light ringing tone followed by a hard metallic ping instantly adds another dimension to the band’s momentum.
Unlike his disciplined up-tempo timekeeping on the rest of the track, Manne ends “Theme: A Gem From Tiffany” (Volume 4, Track 4) with a stunning rubato drum solo. Singing and grunting beneath the sounds of his brushes, Manne jams together two very different strains of rhythms at an interval of a few seconds and then repeats variations of them. Sounding like an untutored child’s frustrated attempts at playing a melody on the piano, the first strain consists of hard slapping strokes that lurch between the snare and tom-toms, with irregular bass drum punctuation. It’s as if he takes a perverse pleasure in exposing the differences between the drums’ tone and timbre. The second, a burlesque of the standard ride cymbal rhythm played on the closed hi-hat, brings to mind Manne’s abandonment of the track’s original rapid tempo. Very different from anything else on the five discs, it’s a sly, willfully unhinged performance.