I doubt anyone could have come up with a more suitable title for an album than this. Six veteran gray foxes of West Coast jazz, with a collective 300 years of experience, blow clean through an incendiary set that sharply belies the “cool” image with which they’ve come to be associated.
Unlike so many aging jazz legends, Bud Shank and friends keep improving with age. Longtime fans of Shank may have noted the abrupt change in his approach to jazz about twenty years ago. He once ranked among the coolest of the cool, perpetually clad in shades and pouring out chilly gouts of supremely crafted, restrained jazz with Charlie Barnet, Stan Kenton and the Lighthouse crowd. It’s said that some of his restraint was due to self-consciousness about an eye that turned outward. Once he finally had an operation that repaired the eye, Shank’s confidence and self-image improved dramatically and that growth was transferred into his playing. His early-1980s quintet with Shorty Rogers revealed a veritable wild man who put forth all the energy and ideas he could fit through his horn. Shank’s power and creativity have only increased since that time. Now, at age 74, he is one of the most incomparable altoists on the scene, playing with a fervor that leaves many contemporary improvisors in the dust.
This album finds Shank in the company of five longtime friends, navigating a select crop of old favorites and originals. His association with tenor man Bill Perkins and trumpeter Conte Candoli dates back to the Kenton and Lighthouse days. A slightly younger pair, pianist Bill Mays and bassist Bob Magnusson, have worked with Shank off and on since the 1970s. The resume of drummer Joe LaBarbera, the “baby” of the group at 52, includes stints with Bill Evans, Woody Herman, Jimmy Rowles, and Chuck and Gap Mangione. All these men have choice reputations as stalwarts of West Coast jazz, and their interaction aptly reflects their long service together. Mays, Magnusson and LaBarbera are the epitome of swing, and the hornmen bounce ideas off each other in fistfuls. Shank bleats, burns and bops mightily, his tone instantly recognizable. Bill Perkins’ idea streams are often quite similar to Shank’s, a result of their camaraderie and shared artistic development, but he can lean toward the avant-garde sometimes, especially evident if you’ve ever heard his angular soprano sax playing (see track #7). After several health scares over the past decade, it’s nice to hear that Perk is still alive and kickin’ especially hard. And Conte Candoli is at his raconteurish best, playful and wry but never pretentious.
The album kicks off with a minor-keyed Gerry Mulligan tune from the 70s. This is the kind of basic theme that these men love to mess around with, just a big enough dose of melody to inspire all kinds of variations and tangents. Next up is a West Coast favorite, Blue Daniel, penned by the tragic trombonist Frank Rosolino. This is one of the tenderest renditions I’ve ever heard of this pretty waltz; clearly the memories of their old comrade still lie within these players’ hearts. Bob Magnusson’s bass work is especially soul-warming. Track #5 is a well-worn standard that begins at a lazy pace before the melody charges in and attacks. The Charlie Parker classic that closes the disc is approached traditionally, with unison horns on the head before the solo spotlights. The two tunes that comprise the medley of track #6 were penned by Mike Wofford, the sextet’s former pianist. #10 Shuffle packs plenty of bounce to the ounce. Candoli’s muted soloing, broken up by trades with LaBarbera, recalls some of Nat Adderley’s style. The John C. section, which follows a rich Mays piano passage, obviously pays due to the irreplaceable John Coltrane, who was a late influence on Perkins. The unity between Mays and Magnusson is of special note here as they weave deep unisons. Perkins is subdued and reflective in his solo, meditating upon the Coltrane legacy with obvious admiration, and the arco bass solo is packed full of lament and longing.
The remaining four compositions were written by Shank, as were all of the arrangements. The songs were inspired by some of the altoist’s many loves: boating, racing, his friends and family. Track #3 is an alteration of his earlier song Sambinha, renamed for a sailboat. The tune is of a hybrid Latin form called “salsa nova”, blending samba and montuno elements. #4 is named for CART Series racer Mauricio Gugelmin. Instead of racing all about, however, the tune struts and prances about suggestively. The cascading ballad of track #8 honors Shank’s wife Linda, nicknamed “Wildflower”. Towards the end this tune features a short, letter-perfect duet between alto and tenor, reminiscent of Shank’s favored duets with Shorty Rogers. #7 is, of course, a nod to Bill Perkins, who proceeds to tear the roof off the studio with his stabbing, slicing soprano. This piece was originally the finale to Shank’s extended work The Lost Cathedral, and it sure isn’t like much West Coast jazz you’ve ever heard!Silver Stormis a must-have for fans of these players, and of the Cool School in general. It’s sure to open some ears and shatter some expectations. Bravo to the Lighthouse crew for churning out another winner! (http://www.rawrecords.com)
Track Listing: Idol Gossip; Blue Daniel; Cotton Blossom; Big Mo; My Shining Hour; #10 Shuffle / John C; Perkolator; Wildflower
Personnel: Bud Shank, alto sax; Bill Perkins, tenor sax; Conte Candoli, trumpet; Bill Mays, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums.