Shelly Manne and His Men: Complete Live at the Black Hawk

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After nearly a week at the Black Hawk in San Francisco, so the story goes, Manne was so happy with the way the gig was going that he   phoned Les Koenig at Contemporary and asked him if he would record the band in action. Koenig was there the next day and he too must have been impressed with the music because he later issued not one or two but four full LPs from the club date.

Manne’s quintet had settled down with the personnel listed above although the regular pianist Russ Freeman was on a leave of absence, touring with a reformed Benny Goodman orchestra. London-born Victor Feldman came in on piano and he fits in very well. The band is very much together from the start and throughout the entire four-CD set. If nothing spectacular or startling happens it is still a fine programme of the modern jazz of the day played by five musicians who are obviously happy with themselves and each other.

CD1 kicks off with “Summertime”, which produces clear, bright solos from Gordon and Feldman; the latter seems to be in a Red Garland bag most of the time, both here and on several other selections. Garland was a major and stated influence at the time and Feldman was, perhaps, a little too intent on following his mentor’s style.

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A fast, early bop styled version of Dameron’s “Our Delight” follows, the theme played much as the composer did it back in the late 1940s. Kamuca takes the first, long solo and his sound is rich but he seems a little short of inventive phrases and is somewhat repetitive. Joe Gordon is fine, as he is all through this set, with a clear, bright and brassy attack and constantly inventive on every selection.

One particularly attractive aspect of these four discs is the spontaneity and freshness of the playing by the entire quintet. Many of the tunes are 10 or 11 minutes and some over 20 in length proving that everything was played exactly as a straightahead night-club set and little or no special arrangements were made or planned for the recording.

By day four the musicians were most likely unaware they were being recorded and responded in the freshness of their improvisations. The two extended blues tracks, “Black Hawk” and “Vamp’s Blues” are very good, everybody relaxed and obviously enjoying digging into the long 12-bar pieces. It is here that the earthy swing of the rhythm section is heard to best effect and it points up the well-integrated and unobtrusive playing of Messrs Feldman, Budwig and Manne – particularly Manne. The latter’s controlled, swinging, but non-showy playing inspires his sidemen to their very best efforts over more than four and a half hours of music.

Discography
CD1: Summertime; Our Delight; Poinciana; Step Lightly; Black Hawk Blues (70. 40)
CD2: Cabu; Theme: A Gem From Tiffany; Blue Daniel; Whisper Not; How Deep Are the Roots; This Is Always; Wonder Why (70. 31)
CD3: Eclipse of Spain; Blue Daniel; Step Lightly; What’s New; Theme: A Gem From Tiffany; Vamp’s Blues; Theme: A Gem From Tiffany (67. 29)
CD4: I Am in Love; Whisper Not; Cabu; Just Squeeze Me; Nightingale; Pullin’ Strings; Theme: A Gem From Tiffany (71.29)
Joe Gordon (t); Richie Kamuca (ts); Victor Feldman (p); Monty Budwig (b); Manne (d). San Francisco, 22-24 September 1959.
Essential Jazz Classics 55740