The problem with examining the music that emanated from the west coast during the '50s and '60s was that too often much of it was lumped under the generic and grand category of "West Coast Cool." Sure, there was music that fit that bill, but there was also traditional jazz prospering on the west coast (Lu Watters & Bob Scobey) along with examples of the avant-garde (Earl Anderza & Jimmy Giuffre), big band (Gerald Wilson), funk/soul (Groove Holmes & Charles Kynard), and hard bop (Carmell Jones & Frank Butler). So to blanket "West Coast Jazz" as a single identity can be patently unfair to those individuals I've mentioned above and also to the eminent Bud Shank. Clearly, a gentleman capable of many moods and styles, his notable work for the Pacific Jazz label during the '60s was largely ignored by the majority of jazz fans at the time and the original issues remain underground collectibles by only a select few collectors.
All that aside, a long overdue recognition of Shank's work from the period needs to be done and will hopefully be forthcoming with Mosaic Records' release of this essential 5 CD/7 LP set. For the record, the original albums contained here include The Bud Shank Quartet, The Bud Shank Quartet Featuring Claude Williamson, Bud Shank Plays Tenor, Bud Shank in Africa, Slippery When Wet, New Groove, and Barefoot Adventure. These sessions were cut between 1956 and 1961 and many of them have been unavailable for quite some time.
Things get underway with the four sessions that feature a quartet with Claude Williamson on piano and Shank heard on alto sax, tenor sax and flute. Such standards as "A Night in Tunisia", "The Lamp is Low", and "Body and Soul" form the majority of the tunes, with a few Shank originals thrown in too. Although I hadn't previously heard any of this material prior to receiving this reissue, I was stunned by the shear excellence and maturity displayed by this working unit. In fact, much of the music could be considered head-and-shoulders above some of the "blowing sessions" being cut by such labels as Savoy and Prestige on the east coast. As good as the '50s stuff is, the next few dates from the early '60s really make a statement and cry for rediscovery. Both Slippery When Wet, from 1959, and Barefoot Adventure, from 1961, were originally conceived as soundtracks for two surfing movies. The former features guitarist Billy Bean, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Chuck Flores and finds Shank predominantly heard on flute. The latter puts Dennis Budimir in the guitar chair, with Peacock and drum legend Shelly Manne on board and the added horns of Bob Cooper and Carmell Jones. Both dates defy descriptive adjectives. Suffice it to say that they should be considered quintessential Bud Shank!
Equally impressive is New Groove from 1961. I've been trying to track this one down for some time now and it was well worth the wait. Budimir, Peacock, Jones, and drummer Mel Lewis join Shank for a hard bop delight that could have just as easily appeared on Blue Note or Riverside. As an added bonus, we get a taste of Shank's work on the baritone saxophone and it's a real pleasure to behold, believe me! If you're a regular Mosaic customer than I don't have to tell you what to expect in the way of quality presentation. It's all here- a handsome 12 x 12 box that houses the discs (expertly remastered) and a 16-page booklet with a wealth of session photos and adroit commentary provided by prominent author Doug Ramsey. However, it's only available by mail, so you have to write to Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut, 06902. You can also order on-line by visiting www.mosaicrecords.com