There was a time, roughly half a century ago, when West Coast jazz was seen as the hippest music on the planet, its leading lights known and praised far and wide for espousing a brand of "cool jazz" that stood in stark contrast to its more heated East Coast counterpart. Much like any other trend, the West Coast jazz that once reigned supreme gradually faded away, leaving its partisans dismayed and understandably concerned that it might never return. The fact is, it hasn't, at least not in the plenitude of its heyday, but there are occasional glimmers of hope, as exemplified on I Wished on the Moon
by young alto saxophonist Allison Neale
and her quartet who upraise the banner once carried proudly by the likes of Art Pepper
, Shorty Rogers
, Gerry Mulligan
, Shelly Manne
, Bob Cooper
, Chet Baker
, Chico Hamilton
, Paul Desmond
, Hampton Hawes
, Conte Candoli
, Jimmy Giuffre
, Russ Freeman
, Lee Konitz
, the Williamson brothers (Stu and Claude) and other luminaries of the West Coast school of jazz.
Although Neale now resides in the UK, she was born in Seattle, WA, and grew up listening to and cherishing the kind of jazz she has chosen to play, the very same "cool jazz" championed by those giants who called the West Coast home and produced what many consider to be some of the finest music ever heard, on either coast or anywhere in between. One of the giants Neale admired most was the incomparable Art Pepper, a fondness that bubbles to the surface often during her sunny improvisations. While Neale is no Pepper clone, his influence is never more than a half-note away. And where there's Pepper there is West Coast jazz, a propensity that is warmly embraced by Neale and her splendid working group: pianist Leon Greening
, bassist Julian Bury
and drummer Steve Brown
(with the talented vibraharpist Nathaniel Steele added on four numbers).
Musically, the West Coast is represented here by Bobby Troup
("You're Looking at Me"), Marty Paich
("Sidewinder") and Pepper himself ("Chili Pepper," a.k.a. "Tea for Two"). The opener, "I Wished on the Moon," for many years associated with Billie Holiday, is given a bright up-tempo treatment with solos to match by Neale and pianist Greening, a name who certainly bears watching. "How Little We Know," on which the debt to Pepper is undisguised (as it is on "Chili Pepper"), is the first of the album's four standards. The others are Ernesto Lecuona's "The Breeze and I," Matt Dennis
/ Tom Adair's "The Night We Called It a Day" and Cole Porter's "So in Love" (from the musical smash Kiss Me Kate.
) Steele amplifies the ensemble on "Chili Pepper," Jimmy Heath
's "Resonant Emotions," "Sidewinder" and Lennie Tristano
's cerebral "317 East 32nd St." (about as far from the West Coast as it gets). He's a tasteful soloist, and everyone benefits from his expertise. Elsewhere, any lingering doubts that the quartet can swing are quickly erased on "So in Love."
While it's true that Neale is young and still finding her voice, there's no doubt that she has, as football scouts are wont to say, a terrific upside. And she's already pretty darn good, as is her third recording as leader, I Wished on the Moon,
which is a pleasure to hear, not only for its West Coast lineage but for superior music-making by all hands from start to finish. High marks and a round of applause for Neale and everyone else on this exhilarating album.
I Wished On The Moon; How Little We Know; Chilli Pepper; Resonant Emotions; You're Looking At Me; 317 East 32nd St; Sidewinder; The Breeze And I; The Night We Called It A Day; So In Love.
Allison Neale: alto saxophone; Leon Greening: piano; Julian Bury: double bass; Steve Brown: drums; Nathaniel Steele: vibraphone (3, 4, 6, 7).