, one of the West Coast's best-kept secrets, earns a long-overdue hour or three in the sun and makes every moment count on Out on the Coast
, a superlative three-disc anthology that bundles fifteen of his luminous original compositions with seven jazz standards in an invariably pleasurable and charming package. When not teaching, writing or arranging, at home or abroad, Angel has led a Los Angeles-based rehearsal band for more than half a century. A list of alumni reads like a Who's Who of West Coast jazz royalty: Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Clare Fischer, Victor Feldman, Bob Brookmeyer, Jack Montrose, Herb Geller, Monty Budwig, Bob Enevoldsen, Bud Shank, Billy Byers, Stacy Rowles, Milt Bernhart, Bob Summers, Don Shelton, Conte and Pete Candoli, Kim Richmond, Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Art Pepper (on tenor sax) and many more. Which raises the question, why has a band as esteemed and proficient as this one remained almost unknown? More than likely, it would seem, because Angel and his comrades rarely leave their home base at the Musicians Union to play in concerts or clubs, and until now have recorded only once, many years ago.
That scenario was upended when tuba master Jim Self
, a sometime member of the band, persuaded Angel to choose some of his favorite compositions and arrangements, and assemble the band for a second recording session, one that took place over four days in January 2020, sneaking under the wire shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. Good for them, and even better for everyone who has the great fortune to hear and derive pleasure from this marvelous compilation. Simply put, Angel is an outstanding writer and arranger, steeped in the West Coast vibe he grew up with, but drawing on influences ranging from Bach, Debussy and Ravel to Duke Ellington
, Gil Evans
, Marty Paich
, Gerry Mulligan
and Bill Holman
, among others. Angel's compositions, always engaging and accessible, traverse the spectrum from blues to ballads, beacons to burners. His melodies are bright and hummable, harmonies colorful and consonant, and he aligns every component of his fourteen-piece ensemble like a well-assembled jigsaw puzzle.
Disc 1 opens with a pair of Angel's enticing themes, "Out on the Coast 2" and "Wig," before moving to the lovely Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz standard, "Alone Together." If listeners are not ensnared by then, they may never be. The opinion here is that the trap will have been carefully laid and sealed, even before the arrival of Angel's Mulliganesque "L'ilo Vasche," Ellington's haunting "Prelude to a Kiss," Angel's animated blues "Ah Rite!" and luscious "Wild Strawberries" and the irrepressible closer, Johnny Mandel
's bop classic, "Hershey Bar"on which Angel (on tenor sax) and Self solo smartly with flugelhornist Jonathan Dane
). Angel's nimble, light-hearted "Between" opens Disc 2, followed by the ballad "Loverman" (a showcase for Tom Peterson
's emotive tenor sax), Angel's "Leaves," Billy Strayhorn
's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," three more burnished gems by Angel "Deep 2," "Moonlight," and "Out on the Coast 3" (whose dancing melody is borne by a pair of flutes)and Vernon Duke's beguiling "Autumn in New York."
Disc 3 enfolds more impressive melodies, starting with Angel's rhythmic "Latka Variations" and continuing with one of Hollywood's underrated treasures, Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer's "This Time the Dream's on Me," before closing with four more of Angel's eloquent essays, "Love Letter to Pythagoras," "Waiting for a Train Part 2," "Dark Passage" and "L.A. Mysterioso." Having thoroughly appraised Angel's ample talents, it is time to look more closely at his remarkably perceptive and talented ensemble, every one of whose members is not only an earnest team player but also a blue-chip soloist too. Individually and collectively, they brighten Angel's music and make it soar. Besides Self, Angel, Peterson and Dane (who solos on seven numbers) they include guitarist John Chiodini
(featured on "Out on the Coast 2"), alto saxophonist Gene Cipriani (ditto on "Prelude to a Kiss") and trumpeter Ron Stout
(basking in the spotlight on "Deep 2"). Chiodini, Stout (on trumpet or flugel), alto saxophonist Phil Feather
, tenor saxophonist Jim Quam
and baritone saxophonist Bob Carr
shape effective statements elsewhere, as does Scott Whitfield
, the ensemble's lone tenor trombone (with Whitfield in control there is no need for backup, as Self doubles on bass trombone). Bassist Susan Quam
has her moment on "Dark Passage," French hornist Stephanie O'Keefe
on "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." Feather and Dane are an unbeatable duo on "Alone Together," as are Stout and Feather on "Wild Strawberries" and especially "Autumn in New York." Chiodini, Susan Quam and drummer Paul Kreibich
comprise a trim and unflappable rhythm section.
When all is said and done, it can be stated without pause that Out on the Coast
is one of the finest big-band recordings produced this yearand more than likely any year in recent memory. Five stars? That is a slam-dunk. And to stretch over- used analogies even further, checking it out is a no-brainer.
(Disc 1): Out on the Coast; Wig; Alone Together; L’ilo Vasche; Prelude to a Kiss; Ah
Rite!; Wild Strawberries; Hershey Bar; (Disc 2): Between; Lover Man; Leaves; A Flower
Is a Lovesome Thing; Deep 2; Moonlight; Out on the Coast 3; Autumn in New York;
(Disc 3): Latka Variations; This Time the Dream’s on Me; Love Letter to Pythagoras;
Waiting for a Train Part 2; Dark Passage; L.A. Mysterioso.