I received a copy of Octobop's fourth CD, Very Early, very latewell past its actual release datebut better late than never, as saxophonist Geoff Roach's urbane northern California-based ensemble does its usual splendid job of reawakening and perpetuating the cool sounds of West Coast Jazz from the '50s, '60s and beyond.
This time, the octet has reached beyond its customary Gerry Mulligan-Marty Paich-Shorty Rogers base to include themes by Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini, Bill Evans, Bob Mintzer, Mel Tormé/Bob Wells, Charles Mingus and trumpeter Randy Smith, completing the program with Mulligan's "A Ballad, Rogers' "Powder Puff and a trio of standards, "Do You Know What Means to Miss New Orleans, "Love Me or Leave Me and "You're My Everything, the last two arranged by Paich. Roach penned five charts, guitarist Jack Conway four.
The overall mood is decisively nonchalant and hip, as befits the ensemble's courtly influences. Tempos range from leisurely to moderate, with three bona fide rockers"Love Me or Leave Me, "Powder Puff, "You're My Everything among the dozen selections. Even there, one can sense an invisible hand on the throttle, gently governing the pace so that it never gets out of hand. Roach, who plays baritone most of the way, alto flute on his arrangement of Mancini's theme from "The Pink Panther, forges a number of pleasing albeit decorous solos, as do Conway, Smith, saxophonist Matt Kesner, trombonist Jon Schermer and vibraphonist Bill Hazzard. Bassist Brian Brockhouse and drummer Roy Kaufmann are front and center (with Kesner interposing his soprano) on Mingus' mournful "Goodbye Porkpie Hat.
Not to belittle what Octobop has accomplished, but it should be noted that Very Early is ideally suited for listening while doing something else, which makes it perfect for radio airplay. Not that one has to do anything else besides listen, which in itself is quite agreeable. On the other hand, it doesn't take a great deal of focus or deep thought. It's simply charming music, lovingly performed by eight ardent and capable musicians.
Love Me or Leave Me; Keester Parade; Pink Panther; A Ballad; Very Early; Powder Puff; Mosaic; Born to Be Blue; Saudades; Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans; Goodbye Porkpie Hat; You
Geoff Roach: leader, baritone sax, alto flute; Matt Kesner: tenor, alto, soprano sax; Randy Smith: trumpet; Jon Schermer: trombone; Bill Hazzard: vibraphone; Jack Conway: guitar; Brian Brockhouse: bass; Roy Kaufmann: drums.
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