Bob Cooper was one of the greats of the fifties West Coast scene. He was a formidable improviser whose proficiency on multiple instruments made him highly sought after for studio work, and was also a talented arranger whose had plenty of work in the studio on both big band and small group recordings. However, he seldom recorded as a leader, and most of the sessions he did record have been out of print for a long time or never released on CD. This compilation collects four albums which represent the best of his fifties work as a leader of combos of various sizes.
The first session is a sextet session from 1954 and features frequent collaborator Bud Shank in the front line as both switch back and forth between an array of saxophones, as well as Howard Roberts on guitar. The session is split evenly between Cooper originals and standards, and a good example of what this session has to offer is the catchy, Cooper-penned "Excursion," which features terrific interplay between the horns and guitar in the head before Shank and Cooper trade licks over the rhythm section. Claude Williamson on piano, Curtis Counce on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums provide the reliable accompaniment that made them mainstays in the recording studio. The whole record is standard fare for a West Coast session: lightly swinging tracks delivered with a high attention to sophistication, melody, and counterpoint.
Shifting Winds from 1955 is an octet session from 1954 and puts Cooper's talents as an arranger to the forefront. It's a typical big band session that occasionally suffers from overly complicated arrangements and tepid performances that never quite catch fire and seem overly rehearsed. Once again Cooper leads a crew of musicians who can solo on multiple instruments which provides him with a wide range of textures to work from; an arrangement of "'Round Midnight" which features bass clarinet, English horn, flute, and oboe is especially haunting and the best track from the session. But Cooper's originals are where the group does their best work: "Hot Boy" is a whimsical Cooper original, and the appropriately titled "Tongue Twister" inspires some swinging solos. It's when the band plays usual big band fare like "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Strike Up the Band" that they seem like just another dance band. And when you've got Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, Stu Williamson, and other great musicians in your band, you should be able to do something a little more special. Much of Shifting Winds has all the force of a light breeze.
The terrific Flute 'N Oboe features Shank on flute and Cooper on oboe for the entire session. They had dabbled with this combination before on many recordings (such as Shifting Winds) but this was the only time they used the unusual instrumentation for an entire record. Because of the low volume level of the front line the accompaniment is appropriately quiet -guitar, bass, a few strings, and the whisper of brushes on the drum kit. As a result, the florid and jocular playing is a summer's garden worth of delights that delivers in unexpected ways. The tracks buoyed by strings are delicate without being saccharine, while the smaller group numbers are surprisingly swinging ("I Want to Be Happy" deserves to be on the shortlist of essential West Coast recordings.) Flute 'N Oboe features the tight interplay and quiet demeanor that was the hallmark of the coolly detached West Coast sound. It has long been out of print and it's good to have it back.
Coop! is Cooper's signature recording (a side note: that's his wife June Christy on the cover) and while Shank isn't in the studio for this one, there are three trumpets and two trombones which was an unusual amount of brass for Cooper. Cooper wasn't one to use the vibraphone too much either, but the presence of Victor Feldman indicates that he is after something more ambitious for this 1957 recording. What would be the first side features an extended work called "Jazz Theme and Four Variations" that harness Cooper's serious artistic ambitions without wandering into pretension. The leaner lineup of the second half rips through a few rousing standards, such as the unlikely Charlie Parker classic "Confirmation" and the old chestnut "Frankie and Johnny." For all it's worthy playing, however, Coop! is good without being exceptional, and Frank Rosolino's trombone and Feldman's mallets on the later recordings never quite sound as well-developed as the other sessions.
‘Sextet': Group Activity; Excursion; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; The Way You
Look Tonight; Solo Plight; Lisbon Lady; When The Sun Comes Out; She Didn’t Say
Yes. ’Shifting Winds’: It’s De-Lovely; Strike Up The Band; ’Round Midnight; Hot
Boy; Deep In A Dream; Hallelujah; Tongue Twister; All Or Nothing At All; Sunset;
Drawing Lines; It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It ‘Aint Got That Swing). ’Flute ‘N Oboe’:
They Didn’t Believe Me; Gypsy In My Soul; In The Blue Of The Evening; I Want To
Be Happy; Tequila Time; I Can’t Get Started; Blues For Delilah; Sunset And Vine;
What’ll I Do. ’Coop! The Music Of Bob Cooper’: Jazz Theme & Four Variations: Main
theme-Sunday Mood; Jazz Theme & Four Variations: First Variation-A Blue Period;
Jazz Theme & Four Variations: Second Variation-Happy Changes; Jazz Theme &
Four Variations: Third Variation-Night Stroll; Jazz Theme & Four Variations: Fourth
Variation-Saturday Dance; Confirmation; Easy Living; Frankie & Johnny; Day
Dream; Somebody Loves Me.
‘Sextet’: Bob Cooper and Bud Shank: all saxophones; Howard Roberts: guitar; Joe
Mondragon: bass; Shelly Manne: drums; Claude Williamson: piano; Curtis Counce:
bass, Stan Levey: drums. ‘Shifting Winds’: Bob Cooper: English horn, tenor sax,
oboe; Bud Shank: alto and tenor sax, flute; Jimmy Giuffre: tenor and baritone sax,
clarinet; Bob Enevoldsen: trombone, tenor sax, clarinet; Claude Williamson: piano;
Stu Williamson: trumpet, trombone; John Graas: French horn; Joe Mondragon:
bass; Max Bennett: bass; Ralph Pena: bass; Shelly Manne: drums. “Flute ’N Oboe’:
Bob Cooper: oboe; Bud Shank: flute; Howard Roberts: guitar; Don Prell: bass;
Chuck Flores: drums; Ray Kramer: cello; Milt Thomas: viola; Ben Gill, Eudice
Shapiro: violins. ‘Coop! The Music of Bob Cooper’: Bob Cooper: tenor sax; Conte
Candoli, Don Fagerquist, Pete Candoli: trumpets; Frank Rosolino, Johnny
Halliburton: trombones; Lou Levy: piano; Victor Feldman: vibes; Max Bennet:
bass; Mel Lewis: drums.