I’m usually a little leery of jazz produced in the 80s. I suppose it’s because most of what I bought during that time period I rarely listen to now. But I took a chance on a Bud Shank/Bill Perkins LP (Contemporary C 14031, 1986) because I’ve been looking for vinyl by Richie Kamuca, and Perkins used to play with him. It didn’t hurt that the drummer was one my faves, the late Sherman Ferguson. Sherm used to play with Kenny Burrell a lot.
I liked the way side two opened better than side one, even though the song’s title, Blazing Paddles didn’t sound very enticing. Ferguson opens the tune with a few bars of well recorded drumming and then Perkins and Shank get going right away in this burner, harmonizing together nicely. The melody was a little familiar but I can’t place it. It’s the kind of horn section toe-tapper I’d expect from the Blue Note jazz from the 60s, with a modern feel.
The recording is nicely balanced from bass to treble, with nothing standing out to distract. Is it the same as listening to the amazing 1950s work of Contemporary engineer Roy DuNann? Not quite, but still pretty nice. Shockingly, the liner notes reveal that this was recorded direct to two-track digital at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. I would have guessed this was analog tape.
And further would have guessed that most early digital recordings sound like crap. This is either the exception or Fantasy had some pretty good gear. Maybe it’s engineer Danny Kopelson and mastering engineer Richard Bock’s handiwork that sounds so good.
OK, John Heard’s stand up bass doesn’t sound like the fullest, most expansive bass I’ve ever heard. It’s a bit on the reedy, mid-rangey sounding side when he solos on Blazing Paddles, or on an old standard, C.T.A. Miles Davis and John Coltrane both recorded C.T.A. decades earlier and both versions are faster in tempo. The Perkins-Shank version almost sounds like a completely different tune, in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, at least in comparison to Davis/Coltrane. In the hands of these two old pros, C.T.A. sounds rather modern.
Out Of This World is another up tempo tune that has a familiar ring to it, but still finds a way to endear itself. It’s Perkins and Shank playing that keeps the song fresh.
New Zealand pianist Alan Broadbent solos very well and Ferguson almost reminds me a tad of Shelly Manne. I first heard Ferguson live at Yoshi’s original nightclub location in Oakland, CA., decades ago. During the break I went up to band leader Kenny Burrell and mentioned that his drummer was the most melodic I’d ever heard. The compliment surprised Burrell; drummers aren’t often described as melodic, but Ferguson’s playing that night struck me that way.
The LP’s cover photos are also telling, it appears that the two men were playing together live in clubs before this date and per the liner notes, the quintet played live at Yoshi’s during the time this record was made. Wish I could have been there. There’s another photo on the back cover that looks like it was shot in a studio, perhaps Fantasy’s.
Irving Berlin’s Remember is here and what a nice version it is. There’s an easy relationship going on between Perkins and Shank that doesn’t sound rehearsed. Both men are swinging away on the whole LP, and maybe that’s why they titled it that way. A very, very nice LP that I can highly recommend.
Got one minute and 42 seconds? Check out a four song medley!
Just Friends: The LA Four (1978 Concord Jazz CJD-199, also a direct to disc version: Concord Jazz CJD-1001): Bud Shank, Laurindo Almeida (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and a young Jeff Hamilton on drums. Eclectic mix of songs, an unusual version of Spain. Bill Perkins is not on this LP.
Special thanks to photographers Dick Bogle and Brian O’Connor for the use of their photos!