West Coast jazz from the mid-twentieth century makes a comeback on this earnest album by the Pacific Jazz Group, whose music owes its genesis to the Pacific Jazz label, which recorded many of the Coast's best and brightest stars during that historic and bounteous era. The idea was set in motion by pianist Dred Scott, one of the music's and the label's ardent fans, who assembled a group built to some extent along the lines of the legendary Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker piano-less quartet, this one with a piano (Scott himself) subbing for Baker's trumpet and tenor saxophonist Eric Crystal supplanting Mulligan's baritone. Bassist John Wiitala and drummer Smith Dobson round out the ensemble.
Appropriately, four of the session's seven tunes were written by Mulligan, the others by Bernie Miller ("Bernie's Tune"), Russ Freeman ("Maid in Mexico") and the peerless Shorty Rogers ("Casa de Luz"). All should be immediately recognized and fondly remembered by any listeners who were charmed by the cool style of West Coast Jazz during the 1950s-70s (surely there must be at least a handful of them left) or who were introduced to it later in some other way.
"Bernie's Tune" in particular has a melody that, once heard, is almost impossible to forget. The PJG opens with that masterwork (introduced in olden days by the Mulligan/Baker Quartet), then follows with the buoyant "Maid in Mexico" and Mulligan's lyrical "Line for Lyons." Rogers' rhythmic "Casa de Luz" leads to three more of Mulligan's eloquent themes: "Festive Minor," "Nights at the Turntable" and "Utter Chaos."
While the PJG does the best it can on every tune, one inescapable drawback when revisiting the classics is the invariable reminder of how terrific the originals were and why their designs are considered unrivaled and timeless. Notwithstanding its evident love for the music, the PJG could never come close to matching those prototypesnor should it have to. Rekindling the spirit of West Coast jazz should be reward enough without suggesting that today's musicians live up to the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Bud Shank, Jimmy Giuffre, Cal Tjader, Russ Freeman, Bob Cooper and other paragons of the West Coast sound. It is always a pleasure to hear this music again, no matter who is playing it or how well.
Bernie’s Tune; Maid in Mexico; Line for Lyons; Casa de Luz; Festive Minor; Nights at the
Turntable; Utter Chaos.
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