Jazz, more than a type of music, encompasses a way of life, an approach towards life, for many people. Bud Shank is one of those people. A man who has spent most of his life with an alto saxophone at least close by, if not in his hands, Shank has traveled and worked as a jazzman, taught and organized jazz schools and festivals, worked as a recording jazz man, and gotten involved with lables and promotion. Currently, Shank lives in the Pacific northwest and applies his effort to his trade with the same fire he has for over 40 years.
This album, as the liner notes explain, a project that seemed destined to not happen. However, proving once again that good things seem to happen to good people, Shank did end up getting to make this record, and had some serious fun while making it. And why wouldn't he, getting to work with a rhythm section of Cyrus Chestnut on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums. And on top of his company, the set list for the album was made up from submissions to Swing Journal from fans. What's not to love, here? Certainly nothing Shank could see, and we the fans, are lucky for the results.
From the opening riff of "September Song" the listener is immediately struck by the intimacy Shank shares with his music. As a professional working musician, Shank has played most of these songs a thousand times. Yet throughout the album, Shank pulls the songs into himself, making them part of him as he spreads the good gospel through his horn. "September Song" swings with a jump in its step, and "Someday My Prince Will Come" bops energetically along. "Night And Day" swings at a near break neck pace, yet never neglects the basic melody, and "Tenderly" throws a bit of a Latin rhythm into the mix. Throughout, Shank and his compatriots swing with such verve and style that one can envision the very smiles that must have been on their faces.
Shank's talent for ballads is put on full display as well with several cuts on the album. "Angel Eyes" rides in on Chestnut's intro and then soars on Shank's solo. The Benny Golson classic "I Remember Clifford" highlights Shank's exceptional tone and control, while showcasing Mraz's bass work. This particular cut almost didn't make the set list though, as Shank's actual given name is Clifford, and he'd never liked playing the song. But ultimately he was convinced, and the results are as charming as the rest of the record.
Overall, this is the type of album that jazz nuts seem to dig for and special order at record stores....and with good reason. While not the biggest name in the business, Bud Shank probably is the business, at least much more so than many. Paring him up with this outstanding rhythm section is a real treat for the fans, and according to the liner notes, the musicians themselves. Chestnut said it was the most fun he'd ever had at a recording session, which seems evident in his jubilant playing on several of the cuts. Nash keeps the time flawlessly throughout, and shows some outstanding brush work on a few of the ballads. Mraz supports during the solos and chorus's, but shines during his own solos, displaying a uniquely deep understanding of the harmonics of each song. Together, the four create a sound that swings with a refined confidence that only comes from mature musicians who know their craft, and know it well.