Every now and then one runs across musicians or composers who are well-known by their peers, or who have carved out loyal followings regionally, but who at the same time have for whatever reason escaped the notice of the wider jazz community. Los Angeles-based saxophonist/bandleader David Angel
would certainly fall into that category, despite a career going back to the 1970s, not only in jazz but in film, television and studio work, in addition to his regular participation in various Southern California symphonies. His 13-piece jazz ensemble wouldn't be a likely candidate for a three-disc retrospective. But that's exactly what is on offer in Out on the Coast
: a substantial collection of music, both of Angel's refined compositions and several standards. Recorded just before the COVID pandemic hit California early in 2020, these 22 tracks provide a window into a subtle musical mind and an enticing large-ensemble embodiment of West Coast cool.
Angel's music doesn't reach out and grab the listener. This isn't the Basie band, by any means. But there's plenty of dynamism nevertheless, heard not so much in overt rhythmic energy but in the constant motion of the ensemble itself. Angel gets a big sound out of these 13 members because there's little wasted space. Each arrangement has the intersecting and contrapuntal layers that reward re-listening, with intricate details that need attention to be fully appreciated, precisely because the music insinuates itself rather than coming to a full shout.
The title-track opener is an early Angel composition, with a medium-tempo swing and the hallmark harmonic sophistication reminiscent of Miles Davis
' nonet work on Birth of the Cool
(Capitol, 1957)an album that is in many ways the blueprint for this style. But the brisk, relatively short pieces here are very different from the lengthier cuts, which exhibit a greater compositional ambition and an even wider range of moods and textures. At over fourteen minutes in length, "Wild Strawberries" is the standout in this regard, with an impressionistic feel that reveals Angel's indebtedness to Debussy, as the ensemble traverses a gorgeous landscape that makes full use of the band's expansive tonal palette.
There are a few tracks in which the band hits a more emphatic groove. "Waiting for a Train Part 2" on the third disc has a lively Latin spirit, with drummer Paul Kreibich
generating a vibrant pulse, while "Ah Rite!" is a blues jam with a feisty solo from baritone saxophonist Bob Carr
. The low end of the tonal spectrum is especially well-represented in Angel's ensemble, whether through Carr or by Jim Self
, who anchors the bottom register wonderfully on both tuba and bass trombone.
The standards are both well-chosen and thoughtfully arranged. Most tend to fall in line with the ensemble's measured sensitivity, with "Lover Man" and "Prelude to a Kiss" typical of the group's subdued approach; alto saxophonist Gene Cipriano
gets an especially strong feature on the latter. Howard Mandel's "Hershey Bar" takes the energy back up a notch or two, with sharp ensemble playing and a nimble tuba solo from Self. And the album's closer, "L.A. Mysterioso," moves with similar verve, with the band digging into another of Angel's complex charts and sounding like a much bigger group in the process. Angel clearly knows these musicians well, and he knows how to write for their strengths. All in all, it's a well-played and well-produced set of music that is quite the tribute to a musician clearly worthy of the honor.
(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.