Various Artists: The Contemporary Records Story (2004)

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Lester Koenig (pronounced KAY-nig) was a Hollywood movie executive who was blacklisted for refusing to testify before the HUAC. Having founded the Good Time Jazz label in 1949 to record Dixieland jazz, he created the Contemporary imprint in 1952 for modern classical music and modern jazz to keep himself busy. With The Contemporary Records Story, Fantasy has released a 4-CD anthology of Contemporary recordings presented in chronological order. All CDs are at least 71 minutes long. Koenig was a stickler for sonic fidelity, and built his own recording studio on the premises. These recordings bear the fruits of his demands, particularly in the bass.

Fantasy's selections give each disc its own identity. As one might imagine, nearly all of the artists here were West Coasters; but there are a few selections by visitors to Los Angeles, including Ben Webster, Woody Shaw and Art Pepper's famous meeting with Miles Davis's rhythm section. Only four songs (by Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Woody Shaw and Chico Freeman) might be considered out of the mainstream.

The songs of disc one feature arrangements so dry they verge on being Third Stream. This is West Coast Cool without being relaxed. The music is often experimental, with unusual instrument combinations (including the use of the french horn or the oboe) or unusual harmonies. The revelation to this listener is the extent to which Lennie Niehaus sounded like Paul Desmond. Drummer Shelly Manne appears on twelve of the sixteen tracks. The disc's highlights are Manne's "You and the Night and the Music" and Lyle Murphy's "Blue Moon."

The music of the second disc is more emotional and less cerebral than that of the first, and the emotion is light and bouncing. The tempo is decidedly more upbeat and swinging. Disc two gets going early on with two Art Pepper tracks. The highlight is Harold Land's "Grooveyard."

The first two-thirds of disc three consist of a collection of pensive recordings, including a New York tape of Cecil Taylor. This mood is interrupted by Helen Humes' "Bill Bailey" and Shelly Manne's "Peter Gunn." The final third returns to the breezy style of disc two. The highlight is Manne's "Blue Daniel."

There is little trace of the West Coast Cool sound on disc four. A number of the tracks are melancholy ballads. The disc is made up of five songs from 1960-1962, one from 1970, and six from 1976-1977. The fidelity of the '70s recordings is noticeably superior. The highlight is Art Farmer's "My Funny Valentine." Koenig died in 1977, and the collection ends with his final project, Art Pepper's Village Vanguard engagement.

The Contemporary Records Story is an enjoyable collection. The album from which each selection is taken is noted, giving the listener plenty of ideas for future exploration.

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars - Big Girl 2. Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars - Viva Zapata! 3. Shelly Manne & His Men - You and the Night and the Music 4. Barney Kessel - Lullaby of Birdland 5. Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars - Bags' Groove 6. Lennie Niehaus - Day by Day 7. Shelly Manne "The Three" - Flip 8. Shelly Manne "The Two" - Billie's Bounce 9. Hampton Hawes Trio - The Champ 10. Hampton Hawes Trio - Blues the Most 11. Lyle Murphy - Blue Moon 12. Duane Tatro - Easy Terms 13. Shelly Manne & His Friends - Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas 14. Buddy Collette - Ruby 15. Shelly Manne & His Friends - I Could Have Danced All Night 16. Curtis Counce - A Fifth for Frank
Disc 2: 1. Gerald Wiggins - Serenade in Blue 2. Art Pepper - All the Things You Are 3. Art Pepper - Star Eyes 4. Red Norvo - Paying the Dues Blues 5. Sonny Rollins - I'm an Old Cowhand 6. The Poll Winners - Jordu 7. Red Mitchell - Scrapple from the Apple 8. Benny Carter - Old Fashioned Love 9. Leroy Vinnegar - On the Sunny Side of the Street 10. Benny Golson - Whisper Not 11. Andre Previn & His Pals - I Could Write a Book 12. Harold Land - Grooveyard 13. Victor Feldman - Serpent's Tooth 14. Ornette Coleman - Invisible
Disc 3: 1. Hampton Hawes - Hip 2. Art Farmer - Stablemates 3. Cecil Taylor Quartet - African Violets 4. Andre Previn - Autumn in New York 5. Sonny Rollins - I've Told Ev'ry Little Star 6. Benny Carter - Someone to Watch over Me 7. Helen Humes - Bill Bailey 8. Shelly Manne & His Men - Peter Gunn 9. Elmo Hope - Barfly 10. Bill Smith Quartet - Greensleeves 11. Art Pepper + Eleven - Airegin 12. Barney Kessel - Down Among the Sheltering Palms 13. Shelly Manne & His Men - Blue Daniel 14. Art Pepper - Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise 15. Teddy Edwards - The Sermon
Disc 4: 1. Ben Webster - Stardust 2. Teddy Edwards - Misty 3. Howard McGhee - Summertime 4. Phineas Newborn, Jr. - Oleo 5. Shelly Manne - Exodus 6. Woody Shaw - A Deed for Dolphy 7. Art Farmer - My Funny Valentine 8. Hampton Hawes - Morning 9. Art Farmer - Will You Still Be Mine? 10. Chico Freeman - Beyond the Rain 11. Ray Brown - Love Walked In 12. Art Pepper - Over the Rainbow

Record Label: Contemporary

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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