Liner Notes by Ken Poston - Director, Los Angeles Jazz Institute
The West Coast Jazz sound rides again thanks to this third CD release by northern California based Octobop. Octobop, the brainchild of saxophonist/arranger Geoff Roach, has successfully taken the essence of the mid-size West Coast ensembles of the 1950s and created a modern approach for the 21st century.
Octobop's musical influences begin with the legendary Miles Davis Nonet of 1949 and 1950. This East Coast Nonet was unique in both musical concept and instrumentation.
From a composition standpoint, there is an equal emphasis on the written arrangements and the improvised solos. Appropriately, these recordings would come to be known as The Birth of the Cool. Surprisingly, when the first Davis Nonet records were released they didn't make much of an impact on the critics or the audience. They did, however, have a major impact on several young arrangers, many of whom ended up in Los Angeles during the 1950s.
By the end of 1951 Shorty Rogers had departed the Stan Kenton Orchestra and settled in Southern California. He found regular work at The Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach and joined Jimmy Giuffre and Howard Rumsey to form the nucleus of The Lighthouse All-Stars. Shorty, once established in LA, was approached by impresario Gene Norman to organize a recording. In choosing instrumentation for the session, he decided to follow the Miles Davis Nonet format. The subsequent release, titled Modern Sounds, gave notice that something new was brewing near the Pacific.
In the meantime, Gerry Mulligan had grown tired of the New York scene and began hitchhiking to Los Angeles. Gerry's arrival, with the success of the Lighthouse All-Stars and Shorty's Modern Sounds led to the birth of West Coast Jazz.
In addition to Shorty and Gerry, a majority of young composers and arrangers migrated west to take part in the growing jazz scene. Opportunities provided via clubs and recordings enabled writers to try different combinations to create the new sounds. Gerry Mulligan continued exploring the mid-size format by creating a West Coast Tentette. Shorty Rogers did more recording with the 8-9 piece ensemble and both Shorty and Giuffre continued to come up with new ideas as members of the Lighthouse All-Stars.
Shorty, Gerry and Howard Rumsey opened the floodgates for a whole new generation of jazz artists on the West Coast. Dave Pell, Shelly Manne, Marty Paich, Jack Montrose and Lennie Niehaus all formed their own mid-size ensembles that helped establish the West Coast Jazz tradition.
Thanks to Geoff Roach and Octobop, that tradition is in full swing, as you will hear on this recording. Geoff has once again chosen an outstanding program from the repertoire of many of the aforementioned names.
Things get under way with a very cool arrangement of The Playboy Theme by Cy Coleman. You'll notice that even though Octobop is influenced by the classic West Coast ensembles, Geoff has come up with his own unique instrumentation featuring a four-horn front line with vibes, guitar, bass and drums - a different kind of piano-less sound! Bill Hazzard, a veteran of all three Octobop recordings, sets the mood on vibes followed by a slow building ensemble that launches solos by Bill on vibes, Mike Humphrey on trombone, and Geoff on baritone sax.
The West Coast sound had an impact on Hollywood and would soon be heard on numerous film and television soundtracks. The show that most captured the After Dark essence of the LA nightlife had to be Peter Gunn. When you dropped by "Mother's" you never knew who would be on the bandstand playing those wonderful Henry Mancini charts. The music from Mancini and Peter Gunn are well featured with Dreamsville and Brothers Go to Mother's.
Dreamsville begins with the rhythm section playing the bridge. Mike perfectly uses his trombone to set the mood that one might find at Mother's late in night. Matt Kesner follows on alto sax. Jack Conway contributes to that late night atmosphere before the entire ensemble, led by Randy Smith's trumpet, closes down the bar.
The Brothers Go To Mother's represents a different kind of cool. Mike on trombone, Geoff on alto flute recreate the Mancini sound. Mike, Randy, and Matt contribute to the feeling of being at a late night jam session.
The Lighthouse All-Stars are represented with Jimmy Giuffre's original The Duke You Say! This was one of the first pieces written by Giuffre for the All-Stars. It was originally released on Sunday Jazz a la Lighthouse Volume 2. Even though Giuffre wrote a lot of music during his Lighthouse tenure, not much was recorded. It's great to hear Octobop bring it to life once again.
The Dave Pell Octet was another of the classic West Coast ensembles. Dave always had great arrangers write for his octet, and Octobop makes two of those arrangements their own. First is the Bill Holman arrangement of The Way You Look Tonight. This arrangement is classic Holman with multiple interweaving melodies and countermelodies, surprising shifts in harmony, and writing that shows off the power of the ensemble, driven throughout by drummer Roy Kaufmann. Later, Octobop pays further tribute to Pell's octet with an adaptation of Marty Paich's arrangement of Mountain Greenery. This arrangement is pure fun and shows off Paich's great ability as an arranger.
Al Belletto, saxophonist from New Orleans, leads a sextet that, in the 1950's and 1960's, included players such as Frank Rosolino and Phil Wilson. Belletto's theme song, Relaxin', written by trombonist Jimmy Guinn, is opened up for Matt, Mike, and Geoff. The shout chorus places Randy's trumpet and Bill's vibes on top of the ensemble to show how cool should be done. If the tune sounds familiar, it's based on Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone".
The standard Broadway, also from the Belletto book, features the theme followed by some tight ensemble writing. The arrangement reflects the influence of Gerry Mulligan's piano-less groups on Octobop. At times all four horns, the vibes, and the guitar are playing ensemble parts. Underneath the ensemble is the driving bass of David Kopf, who along with Geoff, is one of the founders of Octobop.
Music from the pen of Shorty Rogers is featured twice with Lotus Bud and Have You Hugged Your Martian Today? Lotus Bud, originally written as a feature for Bud Shank's alto flute, is adapted here for ensemble.
Have You Hugged Your Martian Today? is one in a long line of Shorty's "Martian" series which started with "Martians Go Home" - a piece of graffiti on the wall of the men's room at Zardi's. Originally a simple minor blues, Geoff adds a shout chorus for the band that shows how elusive and surprising Martians can be.
Thinking Out Loud is a more recent composition that answers the question: "What would a West Coast band play from today's repertoire?" Thinking Out Loud is a tune by bassist Steve Swallow that captures the same kind of buoyancy as the best tunes of the 50s. Matt contributes one of the highlights of the CD on soprano sax along with Randy on trumpet and Bill on vibes. Thinking Out Loud was arranged by Octobop guitarist Jack Conway. Jack joined the group in 2003 and has contributed a number of originals and arrangements to the band's book.
Gerry Mulligan is represented with an adaptation of Westwood Walk which was originally recorded on Gerry's Tentette session in 1953. This version features solos by Randy, Bill, Mike, and Geoff. The section after the solos shows what a visionary that Mulligan truly was. This writing, based on fourths rather than triads, predates some of the ideas found in the hard bop era in the 60's and beyond.
The West Coast Jazz era left an amazing legacy and it's very gratifying to hear Geoff Roach and Octobop not only continue that legacy but to add to it as well.