San Francisco was a cultural furnace in the 1950s- a hotbed of artistic innovation and exploration. From the winding stream of consciousness treatises of the Beats to the creative explorations of the Bay Area jazz cadre and the frequent overlap between the two things were in a word ‘jumping.’ This recent Fantasy reissue captures some of the representative sounds of the latter community in a series of performances taped live at the famed Blackhawk club.
The first seven tracks are taken from a single LP compilation originally intended to promote some of the then lesser known talents on the Fantasy roster some of whom, Vince Guaraldi, Sonny Clark and Jerry Dodgion among them, would gain wider notoriety in later years. The Vince Guaraldi with Dodgion on sultry-toned alto getting the pot percolating with a pair of numbers. The dubiously titled “Calling Dr. Funk” ambulates on a loping groove fueled by blues-tinged figure from Wright’s supple bass. “Between 8th and 10th On Mission” is decidedly more upbeat in flavor and the leader steps up with some fluid comping behind Dodgion.
Up next is the Ron Crotty trio. Ron who? It’s an honest question, but the liners reveal the bassist as seasoned component of Dave Brubeck’s trio circa the early 50s. Fronting a somewhat unconventional trio of bass, piano and drums Crotty annexes vinyl space for three tunes and Guaraldi, this time playing the role of sideman even wheels out the celeste on “The Night We Called It A Day.” Crotty fingers his strings with audible relish and the results of his arrangements are uniformly engaging. Dodgion, coveting a thinly veiled Charlie Parker crush, rings in on two as a leader to close the album out.
The disc’s second half gathers performances by the Charlie Mariano Sextet also waxed at the Blackhawk. In comparison to earlier survey of stylists these later sides seem a little stale, but Mariano sounds in solid shape with a light singing tone and his sidemen regularly commence to swing. Truitt is especially effective in the frontline with a velvet delivery. Wyands works well at the helm of the rhythm section and his brief solos on tunes like simmering “After Coffee” keep his partners guessing. Mariano would strike out on decidedly more experimental paths in the 60s and 70s, but these tracks provide a fascinating a window into his formative years as a youthful leader. Overall this disc demonstrates in an enjoyable and irrefutable fashion that the jazz scene in San Francisco was indeed happening in the late 1950s.
Fantasy on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Personnel: Vince Guaraldi- piano; Jerry Dodgion- alto saxophone; Eugene Wright- bass; John Markham- drums; Ron Crotty- bass; Eddie Duran- drums; Sonny Clark- piano; Lawrence Marable- drums; Charlie Mariano- alto saxophone; Sonny Truitt- trombone; Dick Collins- trumpet; Richard Wyands- piano; Vernon Alley- bass; Joe MacDonald- drums. Recorded: San Francisco.