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Multiple Reviews

Looking Back: West Coast Classics

By Published: February 1, 1999

The bulk of the material finds Mulligan and Baker in a pianoless quartet that was revolutionary in its quiet way, opening up the music by removing the domination of keyboard chording.

This second batch of six Pacific Jazz CD reissues in the "West Coast Classics" series is sort of a tale of two cities—or, more precisely, a tale of two communities within a city (Los Angeles), one white, one black and often worlds apart.

Producer Richard Bock's label began largely as a white, cool-school label in the early '50s and found its direction modifying as the music changed late in the decade. These collections — divided racially into three white, relatively cool efforts and three black, mostly soulful and hard-bop-oriented albums—give a vivid picture of jazz genres and cultural roots.

Gerry Mulligan's The Original Quartet With Chet Baker is, of course, a classic and among those essential elements that jazz listeners must come to grips with. At least some of the quartet's music is a must in any well-rounded jazz collection. This two-CD set of 42 performances recorded between June 1952 and May 1953, put baritone saxophonist-pianist Mulligan and trumpeter Chet Baker on the map—and helped give "cool jazz" it's name (although what they were doing wasn't really all that cool).

The bulk of the material finds Mulligan and Baker in a pianoless quartet that was revolutionary in its quiet way, opening up the music by removing the domination of keyboard chording. The two horns were then free to develop a running counterpoint that was distinctive and creatively valid. The rhythm players just kept things loosely steady and let the horns mingle. Backing the horns are bassists Red Mitchell, Joe Mondragon, Bob Whitlock or Carson Smith, drummers Chico Hamilton or Larry Bunker and, on a couple of early tracks, pianist Jimmy Rowles. If you are one of those few jazz fans with none of this Mulligan Quartet music, what are you waiting for?

Also not exactly in the "cool school" realm is Traditionalism Revisited by valve trombonist-pianist Bob Brookmeyer's quintet—music recorded in two sessions in July 1957. The idea behind the session was to interpret early jazz material in an individual and somewhat updated fashion.

One is clearly able to hear Brookmeyer's Kansas City roots, as well as the loping, wide-open Texas qualities that infused Jimmy Giuffre's playing, particularly on clarinet (but also on tenor and baritone sax). Guitarist Jim Hall, then as now, was the perfect foil, providing a sensitive mixture of marvelously textured support and bluesy solo reserve. The rhythm teams, like those with Mulligan, are unobtrusive. Supporting Brookmeyer, Giuffre and Hall are Joe Benjamin or Ralph Pena, bass, and Dave Bailey, drums. Included on this CD are a pair of bonus tracks, "Slow Freight" and "The Sheik of Araby." While perhaps not a "must" like the Mulligan album, this is a most worthy recording.

Although it isn't as "cool" as some of the white, West Coast combos got, Blowin' Country is also not too lively or inspiring. Bud Shank's generally light alto and tenor saxophones and flute, as well as Bob Cooper's Stan Getz-influenced tenor sax (and his moody bass clarinet and oboe work) are fairly listenable when the rhythm section kicks them along.

A lot of the time in these sessions from November 1956 or January/February 1958, however, the music is a bit too airy and often exotic (oboe and flute). Assisting Shank and Cooper are pianist Claude Williamson or guitarist Howard Roberts, bassist Don Prell and drummer Chuck Flores. Both Cooper and, particularly, Shank got to sounding tougher in their later careers. They were, of course, part of the studio recording scene from the '50s into the '70s and beyond, a lucrative but not very musically fulfilling experience. Once Shank left the studio scene, his sound developed a harder edge that has produced some very solid recordings.

Shifting to the black-led recordings of this batch, we find tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, who chose to remain in the Los Angeles scene after moving there in the mid-'40s. One of those big-toned tenor players sporting a sound laced with stylistic traces of Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins (and an easy, soulful edge somewhat akin to Dexter Gordon), Edwards is one of those musicians who would have made a much larger mark in the music had he ventured off the West Coast more often.

His work on Sunset Eyes, recorded in August 1959 and mid-1960, has the relaxed yet hard-blowing quality of the Texas tenormen, even though he is a Mississippi native. In addition to the consistently fine playing of Edwards, the album has the excellent piano work of seriously overlooked pianist Joe Castro or the more than adequate piano efforts of Amos Trice. Rounding out the rhythm section most of the time are bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Billy Higgins. On the opening track the rhythm section is pianist Ronnie Ball, bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Al Levitt. This is a highly recommended outing.

The real "find" for jazz fans on Katanga! is largely unknown trumpeter Dupree Bolton in the company of Curtis Amy, a tenor and soprano saxophonist with a hard-edged and sometimes harsh tone. Bolton is another of those sad stories of the jazz world, a player who could have been a major and influential voice in the music if not for his travails with drugs and prisons. There are reports, by the way, that Bolton is living as a street musician on the West Coast.

Amy's solos have energy but tend to run out of ideas, while Bolton's controlled fire flashes throughout this March 1963 session. The final three tracks, bonus efforts from an early 1962 date, have Marcus Belgrave on trumpet. Another grand thing about the 1963 music is the very personal guitar playing of Ray Crawford, as well as the piano work of Jack Wilson. Other sidemen are valve trombonist Roy Brewster, pianist John Houston, bassists Victor Gaskin or George Morrow and drummers Doug Sides or Tony Bazley. If you want to hear a what-could-have-been trumpeter, you're advised to pick up this one.

Inconsistency is the problem with alto saxophonist Earl Anderza's playing on the March 1962 music heard on Outa Sight. There are times when his sound, which shows the influences of Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy, borders on the shrill, yet there are segments where a very pleasing warmth reveals itself. But then there also are times when his approach and the control of his horn are almost amateurish, both in terms of his improvising clumsiness and his uncomfortable rhythmic attack.

Anderza, who sank into obscurity after this, the only recording under his name, is backed by a rhythm section headed by aforementioned pianist Wilson, who also plays harpsichord on the opening pair of tracks. This electronic harpsichord has a particularly annoying sound and, thankfully, Wilson shifts strictly to piano after those tracks. Anderza is at his best on his own compositions, seemingly ill-at-ease with standards. Bassists George Morrow or Jimmy Bond and drummer Donald Dean are the remaining backup players.



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