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The Jazz City Workshop [TrackList follows] – Bethlehem

The Jazz City Workshop [TrackList follows] – Bethlehem mono BCP-44, 35:43 (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

(Marty Paich – piano; Herbie Harper – trombone; Larry Bunker – vibes; Jack Costanzo – bongos; Frankie Capp – drums; Curtis Counce – bass; Mickey Lynne – vocals on track 4)

In 1955, when these sides were originally recorded for Bethlehem Records, the company produced 63 albums, which in the day was quite a prodigious output. Hoping to add to this list, The Jazz City Workshop was to be the first in a series to be named after Jazz City, a night spot in Hollywood California situated at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Western Ave. The best of the LA-based jazz musicians played there, and it was to be cauldron for new ideas, new jazz and new jazz musicians.

The ostensible leader of this session was pianist Marty Paich who wrote all the arrangements and composed one of the tunes. Paich had already built a name for himself both as an arranger and player on the West Coast and was closely associated with Mel Tormé and his recording with the Marty Paich Dek-tette. The other players involved in the project had established reputations having participated in other Bethlehem releases although Larry Bunker’s previous activities were mostly as a drummer and not on vibes as was the case here.

The track list is standard fare with no ringers except for the Marty Paich original “The Natives Are Restless Tonight”. A similar-named composition by Horace Silver appeared on his 1964 album Songs For My Father and although it has a similar structure, it is in fact not the same tune. Paich’s version is a full-bore Latin jazz arrangement with Jack Costanzo’s bongos pushing the tune along rhythmically with strong solos from trombonist Herbie Harper and Bunker on vibes. Paich also pitches in with some impressive single-note piano beaks. In an understated mambo-groove, “Autumn Leaves” captures the essence of the melody with both Harper and Bunker sharing the solo honours.

In the too-good-to-be-true department, aspiring singer Mickey Lynne’s offering on “That Old Black Magic” falls into that category. Attending the session as an observer, she was asked if she would like to sing with the group and so without rehearsal, she gave her vocal key to the band, dove into the song doing the tune in one take. Although her version was credible under the circumstances, it was in fact, the beginning and end of her career. Wisely on the group’s version of “Laura” they eschew Costanzo’s bongos for a standard reading of this lovely Raskin-Mercer tune. Trombonist Harper takes a thoughtful run-through of the melody and some ad-libbing, which is then followed by Bunker’s vibes staying in the upper register. Harper then redoes the melody before the out chorus.

While neither revisionist nor experimental in the “workshop” tradition, it is  nevertheless replete with solid ideas and exceptional playing.

TrackList: Zing! Went The Stings Of My Heart; Autumn Leaves; Blues In The Closet; That Old Back Magic; The Natives Are Restless Tonight; Serenade In Blue; Laura; Them There Eyes

—Pierre Giroux

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