Julius Wechter: Quartet & Quintet 1956-1957

Two-album set revives the West Coast vibist who wrote Herb Alpert's hit Spanish Flea before largely disappearing from jazz into the studios


New names are constantly appearing and while vibraphonist Julius Wechter will probably be unknown to many, he is far from being a new kid on the block. Indeed, the music heard here was recorded more than 65 years ago. Is it dated? Not a bit of it.

First, though, a little background on the artist, all thanks to extensive details in the liner notes. Born in Chicago in 1935, Wechter played locally in small jazz groups while studying in Los Angeles. This included a competition at the famous Lighthouse Club and thanks to attendant publicity, an opportunity to record arose. This resulted in Linear Sketches (Jazz West LP-9), a 1956 set that was well received, and the following year another was made, this one for Intro Records, but it was never released.

At the end of the 1950s and in the early 1960s, Wechter had brief spells with Latin bands led by Martin Denny and Herb Alpert, and he composed Spanish Flea, lyrics by his wife Cissy, which was a hit for Alpert’s Tijuana Brass. From this point onwards, although he did play occasional jazz dates, Wechter became a film and television studio musician. Now, thanks to Jordi Pujol’s always valuable and this time archaeological work, Wechter’s two own-name recordings are available, the (2) session for the very first time. Were they worth the wait? Absolutely.

The leader’s vibraphone playing, always melodic and lightly swinging, is masterly and it is abundantly clear throughout that his career choices were a loss to the jazz world. Also of a very high standard is the playing of alto saxophonist Cy Colley, Jr, clarinettist John Bambridge, Jr, and guitarist Dennis Budimir. The last named is perhaps the most recognisable of these musicians, although some had long studio careers.

Throughout, the musical standard is set high and the mostly slow and mid-tempo pacing matches the mood, which is reflective. As to why the second session was never released, it appears to have been a test pressing that somehow failed to meet expectations. If that is so, any deficiencies there might be are inaudible to this reviewer.

Altogether, this release is one that will have wide appeal and Jordi Pujol must be congratulated for bringing back into the spotlight the music of Julius Wechter (1935-1999), a gifted yet forgotten artist.

(1) Trousseau; Autumn Leaves; Love Letters; My Melancholy Baby; Cy’s Blues; I Remember You; I’ll Close My Eyes; Sissy; (2) Undecided; Dave’s Tune; Scotch Hop; Peanuts; Melancholy Serenade; Lover Man; Blues Riff (55.69)
(1) Wechter (vib); Cy Colley, Jr (as); Jim Bates (b); Frank DeVito (d). Los Angeles, 1956.
(2) Wechter (vib); John Bambridge, Jr (cl); Dennis Budimir (g); Bates (b); Jerry Williams (d). Los Angeles, 1957.
Fresh Sound Records FSRCD 1126