John Plonsky Quintet: Cool Man Cool / Herb Pilhofer Octet: Jazz From The North Coast Vol 2

Fresh Sound resurrect two unfairly forgotten albums, one adopting the accordion to cool, the other presenting absorbing new arrangements


This is another release from Fresh Sound’s “Rare and Obscure Jazz Albums” series, which provides two hard-to find LPs on each CD.

Cool Man Cool is John Plonsky’s only LP as leader. He composed five of the numbers and the remaining six are standards rearranged by him. Two of these feature Cincinnati singer Betty Blake. The music is largely West Coast / cool but with a individual slant – the lineup comprises amplified accordion. It’s played unobtrusively by Dominic Cortese, his muted reedy effects adding texture and depth to the band’s overall sound.

Plonsky’s talent on trumpet is considerable and members of his quintet are clearly adept at playing in close harmony, having worked with some the best band leaders of the time: Carl Janelli with Jimmy Dorsey, Chet Amsterdam with Neil Hefti and Mel Zelnick with Benny Goodman. It’s a slick, top-quality outfit and I’m surprised it hasn’t come to wider attention.

Pianist Herb Pilhofer was born in Germany and emigrated to the US when he was 23. Jazz From The North Coast Vol 2 was his recording debut. (Vol 1 was by the Bob Davis Quartet and issued the year before on Zephyr Records.) He selected his band members from the leading jazz musicians in the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St Paul with Bob Crea, Dave Karr, Jack Coan and Stan Haugesag being accomplished soloists in their own right.

Pilhofer formed the octet for the purpose of experimenting with his own arrangements and with the intention of not following any particular style or sound. This is reflected on the album: Bach’s Lunch is written in the form of a canon, Nicollet Avenue Breakdown is a blues, some numbers fall into Shorty Rogers cool territory and others vary between mainstream and the positively orchestral with Pilhofer’s sumptuous arrangement of Django. His assorted use of instrumentation such as French horn, clarinet, flute, baritone sax, etc helps bring about this tapestry of sound and style. I found the whole performance totally absorbing.

Both LPs on the CD have been expertly remastered and the resulting sound quality is superb. The album comes with a booklet containing photos of both band leaders and the original liner notes.

[Cool Man Cool] (1) Laurel And Hardy; The Lady Is A Tramp; But Not For Me; Putting On The Ritz; Just In Time; Calico Shoes; Angel Hair; How About You?; Funkier Than You; I’ll Take Romance; Blonde Caboose; [Jazz From The North Coast Vol 2] (2) Elora; Django; Nicollet Avenue Breakdown; Give Me The Simple Life; Solo Scenes; Bach’s Lunch; Spring Is Here; Topsy; Stop And Go; Ill Wind (60.52)
(1) Plonsky (t); Carl Janelli (bar); Dominic Cortese (acc); Chet Amsterdam (b); Mel Zelnick (d); Betty Blake (v) on tracks 3 & 8. New York, 5 March 1957.
(2) Pilhofer (p); Bob Crea (as, ts, cl); Dave Karr (ts, bar, f); Jack Coan (t); Paul Binstock (frh); Stan Haugesag (tb); Ted Hughart (b); Russ Moore (d). Minneapolis, 1956.
Fresh Sound Records FSRCD 1064