If ever a series lived up to its promise and its name, this one surely does. These two discs are part of a set of reissues on Pacific Jazz labeled West Coast Classics — which indeed they are. Also among the early releases (not reviewed here) are memorable sessions by Chet Baker/Russ Freeman, the Jack Montrose Sextet, the Jack Sheldon and Shank/Bill Perkins quintets, and octets led by Perkins and bass trumpeter Cy Touff. So far at least, there’s not a lemon in the orchard. Blowin’ Country, recorded in 1956–58, includes all selections from the original LP of that name plus five bonus tracks, on all of which Bud and Coop show that there was much more to the West Coast scene than cool. Backed by a topnotch rhythm section (with guitarist Roberts replacing pianist Williamson on the last four tracks), these two masters offer a comprehensive clinic in good old–fashioned swinging. The West Coast did have a certain “sound” of its own, which is evident throughout — but the rap that it somehow didn’t swing simply doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. Multi–instrumentalists Shank and Cooper let it all hang out, skipping comfortably through a colorful program that consists mostly of standards with a few not–so–standards (Steve Allen’s theme song and Shank’s “Blowin’ Country,” on which Bob and Bud frame a remarkable impression of Al and Zoot) tossed in for added flavor. Also on the menu are several lesser–known but no less convincing pieces including “Mutual Admiration Society,” “Two Lost Souls,” “As Long As There’s Music,” “The Gypsy in My Soul” and themes used by film/TV stars George Burns and Gracie Allen (“Love Nest”), Bob Hope (“Thanks for the Memory“) and Bob Cummings (“A Romantic Guy, I”). If there’s a downside, it lies in the fact that 15 tunes are crammed into the 55:37 playing time, leaving scant room to stretch. But Shank and Cooper know how to make every note count, and their solos, while perhaps briefer than one might wish, are always inspiring. Neither Shank nor Cooper was ever satisfied treading water, and both continued to refine and develop their styles. Shank is playing today as well as he ever has, while Cooper remained one of the West Coast's premier tenors until his passing in August 1995 (on the way to a rehearsal with the Bill Holman band). Mid-'50s monaural sound, but nevertheless highly recommended.
While I can’t say I understand completely the title of valve trombonist Brookmeyer’s reissue from 1957, that’s irrelevant, really, as this is another clear–cut winner from way out west. Sound isn’t quite as sharp as on Blowin’ Country (with some slight distortion in places), but that’s a minor complaint when one hears the way Brookmeyer, Jimmy Giuffre and colleagues carve up these eight oldies from Tin Pan Alley and Brookmeyer’s “Slow Freight.” Despite the addition of two bonus tracks (“Freight,” “The Sheik of Araby”) the session still clocks in at only 49:35, which may be a consideration for those on a fixed income. But it’s good to hear Brookmeyer, one of a handful of masters on his axe, and especially the versatile Giuffre, whose more recent work lies in the realm of the avant–garde, playing sturdy straight–ahead Jazz with a well–defined kick. Brookmeyer’s a pretty fair bar–room pianist too, as he shows on “Don’t Be That Way,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Slow Freight” and Truckin’.” Another highlight is his muted work on “Sheik of Araby.” Another admirable session, but if forced to choose between Traditionalism and Blowin’ Country, the Shank/Cooper pairing would earn the nod by virtue of its better sound quality, running time and choice of material.
Track listing (Blowin’ Country): Dinah; Mutual Admiration Society; Steve Allen Theme; I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face; Blowin’ Country; Love Nest; As Long As There’s Music; Just in Time; Two Lost Souls; Thanks for the Memory; A Romantic Guy, I; Sweet Georgia Brown; Gypsy in My Soul; I Want to Be Happy; What’ll I Do (55:37).