Sample (long) from volume 1: “Summertime” Live at the BlackHawk.
Being relatively new to West Coast jazz, a helpful steer from the Penguin Jazz Core Collection pointed me at Shelly Manne and his four volume “Live at the BlackHawk” . Recorded over successive evenings at the San Francisco premier jazz spot, the line up is a little unfamiliar, to me at least, but I it swings and I like it.
Thinking of another band led by a drummer – Art Blakey – I was fearful of forty-minute drum solos but not a bit of it. Manne and his Men are as polished and cool a jazz quintet as you might find among New York’s finest, featuring Joe Gordon’s fine trumpet, a relatively unknown Richie Kamuca on tenor, and the very well known Victor Feldman – only this time only on piano and not vibraphone. Manne doesn’t grandstand, but he does push everything along nicely, supported by the full surefooted bass of Monty Budwig.
The standout track is the Gershwin standard “Summertime”, delivered at a lush languorous pace reminiscent of Grant Green’s “Idle Moments” and Miles/ Adderley’s “Autumn Leaves”. Lots of space for the soloists to stretch out. Kamuka is no Joe Henderson or Julian Adderley, but to his credit he eschews the obvious tenor-running-on-speed, opting for a slower paced moody solo which you warm to on repeated listening. Feldman is superb – parallels with McCoy Tyner and for once the piano sounds like a real piano. For all of his total genius, master engineer Rudy Van Gelder never did find the knack of recording piano, at best sounding like being played under a thick layer of blankets. A very satisfying musical outing.
Pressed here for first UK release in 1960 on Contemporary Vogue and as best I can tell, mono, though it is so full sounding it hardly matters, being an intimate club setting. And beautifully recorded – and as you might expect given the group leader, especially the crisp snare brushwork and cymbal rings. Nice dynamic range from high to low, and everything in between. One book that sounds like its cover looks.
Volumes two, three and four all have bids sitting on them, so back off, they are mine!
UPDATE June 23, 2016:
Nope, I haven’t bothered to collect the full four Shelly volumes. To be honest, there is another Live Blackhawk session which I valued much more – Miles Davis In Person Friday and Saturday Night at The Blackhawk, Hank Mobley! stretched out over six LPs in a Mosaic box set. Mobley stretching out and not edited down to fit on the two Columbia LPs. Remarkable live performance.