Shelly Manne & His Men
Recorded the afternoon of January 19th, 26th & February 2nd, 1956 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood.
This early edition of Shelly Manne & His Men is a well-integrated unit featuring the light-toned trumpet of Stu Williamson, the cool but hard-driving altoist Charlie Mariano, pianist Russ Freeman and bassist Leroy Vinnegar in addition to the drummer/leader. The excellent quintet plays one original apiece from each musician except Vinnegar in addition to Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco," Sonny Rollins' "Doxy," the standard "Bernie's Tune" and their closing theme, Bill Holman's "A Gem from Tiffany."
All Music Guide
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Even the most rabid promoters of the West Coast versus East Coast argument in todays jazz agree that there are a certain few musicians whose ability sets them above the geographical discussions. Certainly one of these musicians, if not the one, is Shelly Manne, admired and held in high esteem by both Locals 47 and 802, critics of Metronome and the San Francisco Chronicle, and fans from the jazz world is due to many things. He can sit in any rhythm section, from a trio to the biggest band and make it swing; he is an experimenter and innovator of the highest order; he can, when the occasion calls for it, subdue himself to fit any style of soloist; and he is a solo drummer of exceptional skill and taste.
Probably his greatest attribute is his insatiable musical curiosity. The percussion section has long been the most neglected part of the orchestra, since the average drummer is limited by the comparatively small number of noise-making instruments which make up a jazz drum set. However, Shelly has never been daunted by this fact. Using sticks, mallets, fingers, hands, whatever other implements are at hand, and large doses of imagination, he has enriched the percussive gamut with new and distinctive sounds.
His sense of time seems to be built in. On recording sessions, two takes taped hours apart will come out to the split second. His reading skill is remarkable. I have seen him at motion picture recordings, modern chamber music sessions, jazz dates and experimental get-togethers. He will look at his part, grimace, say "I'll never make it," and then breeze through it first time around, usually turning other present percussion players a lovely green shade of envy. In a lesser personality, all these skills could add up to a highly proficient but dull and mechanical player; but in Shelly's case, his humor, good taste, and always vital interest in the music shines through, inspired and inspiring. And of course, possibly most important of all, he swings like a demon. This is apparent from bar one of this album, in which Shelly is joined by his own group, all summa cum laude graduates of the wailing school: Charlie Mariano, Stu Williamson, Russ Freeman, and Leroy Vinnegar.
Side one begins with a bright Charlie Mariano original, "The Dart Game." After a rhythmically intricate introduction, the ensemble plays the happy theme, and Stu, Russ and the composer solo. "Bea's Flat," a Russ Freeman tune originally written for the Chet Baker Quartet, is next. Leroy's walking chorus, Russ's fabulous time, and an intriguing Oriental-sounding coda are featured. Next is "Parthenia," a lovely moody ballad written by Shelly, and featuring especially soulful Mariano. The sudden transition to major at the end, after Charlie's cadenza, is worth watching for. Closing side one is the longest and perhaps most important side in the albums, Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco." All the soloists are at their best, starting with some really great Mariano choruses which lead into a funky, swinging half-time. Stu begins over an ostinato and goes back into double time. Russ is next and proves why he is one of the most influential and copied musical minds in modern jazz. After Leroy's choruses (listen to Shelly's accents and answers during this) comes the only extended drum solo of the album, lasting just under three minutes. This solo, far removed from the ordinary give-em-hell drum exhibition, is an actual theme and variations, the theme consisting of four descending notes. Shelly, with his constant awareness of form and dynamics, and using brushes, hands, tambourine, and tom-tom glissandi, builds a set of variations which would be amazing enough had they been written by one of the acknowledged masters of modern percussion music, such as Bartok, Varese, Chavez, or Surinach; considering the fact that they are wholly improvised they constitute one of the most amazing solos in recorded jazz.
Side two begins with "Bernie's Tune" in a typically good-humored Jack Montrose arrangement, affording each of the soloists a chance to shine. "Doxy," which follows, is a wonderful down-home swinger, especially noteworthy for Leroy's marvelous driving playing, both during the ensemble and his solo. "Slan," another Mariano original, is up next, special points of interest being the unusual mixture of minor and major in the tune, a chorus of fours between Charlie and Stu, and a bridge for Russ and Shelly alone. The album concludes with Shelly's theme, "A Gem from Tiffany" The Tiffany in this case is the Los Angeles jazz club in which Shelly's group has played since its formation in October 1955. The tune, by Bill Holman, is another swinger, and an especially happy-sounding one. The rhythm section is really wailing through this.
It is a real pleasure to hear this group on records. There is no guesswork here; the musicians are in complete accord with one another. They defeat any possible East-or-West-of-the-Rockies chauvinism by playing intricate and swinging, daring and traditional, tender and funky, loud and soft, driving and soulful. And whenever they play, their music is, by any definition of the word extant, always jazz.
- Andre Previn