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Shelley Manne: Plays Checkmate (1961)

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Shelley Manne: Plays Checkmate No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

One would hardly think that music for television would form a solid basis for improvisation, being largely incidental music meant to set scenes rather than draw in the ear. However, Johnny Williams (the same John Williams who later created memorable music for Star Wars and the Harry Potter movies) was a composer who was able to transcend the usual boundaries of the small screen to create some memorable little themes that worked quite well apart from the show.

Shelley Manne, who had previously delved into musicals for fresh ideas (his My Fair Lady is a minor classic), was able to see the possibilities in Williams' noirish themes from Checkmate, a long forgotten TV show. It certainly helps that Manne's 1961 working quintet was filled with fire-breathers like Richie Kamuca and Conte Candoli, but clearly the music simply gave the musicians the opportunity to dig into some fresh material to generate ideas. The music bears the influence of recent modal experiments (“The King Swings” bears more than a passing resemblance to “Impressions”) and Freeman, a stalwart West Coast pianist, demonstrates a knack for working within the loose framework. Other selections are based on sinister bass and prickly drumming that instantly recall numerous spy themes; the horns, in true form, dart around like criminals in the shadows. Clearly with the talent involved, this project was likely to provide some intense blowing; had this been done by anyone else, it might not have been so interesting.

Track Listing: 1. Checkmate 2. The Isolated Pawn 3. Cyanide Touch 4. The King Swings 5. En Passant 6. Fireside Eyes 6. The Black Knight.

Personnel: Shelley Manne-drums; Conte Candoli-trumpet; Richie Kamuca-tenor sax; Russ Freeman-piano; Chuck Berghofer-bass.

Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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