Howard McGhee – West Coast 1945-1947 [TrackList follows] – Uptown Records UPCD 27.74, 67:36 ****:

(Collective personnel: Howard McGhee – trumpet; Teddy Edwards – tenor sax,clarinet; J.D. King – tenor sax,vocal; Sonny Criss – alto sax; Vernon Biddle, Hampton Hawes – piano; Bob Kesterson,Addison Farmer – bass; Roy Porter – drums)

Howard McGhee was a technically proficient trumpeter whose individual style was a compromise between swing players and beboppers and who was influenced by both Fats Navarro and Dizzy Gillespie. In Brian Morton & Richard Cook ’s The Penguin Jazz Guide trumpeter Jeremy Pelt had the following to say about McGhee: “ … Howard McGhee was the trumpeter who bridged the gap between Diz and Miles. He was the consummate stylist.”

These 1945-47 sessions are a combination radio broadcasts, recording dates and an AFRS transcription all with the original McGhee sextet apart from the final AFRS set which saw Sonny Criss,Hampton Hawes, and Addison Farmer come into the band. The first eight tracks are from a radio broadcast that emanated from a Hollywood Boulevard night club called The Streets of Paris on the same December 21 date in 1945. Considering that there was probably only one pick-up microphone, the sound is really quite good and the digital restoration has added to the clarity. Starting with “A Night In Tunisia” the McGhee trumpet is in full flight and he reaches all the high notes with ease. As is sometime the case with these radio broadcasts, there are frequently extraneous factors which either can or cannot add to their interest. In this particular case, the uninteresting part is the rather lugubrious announcer Fred Shields who offers pseudo-bebop talk about the band and the music and promotion of the programs and clubs. Additionally two tracks “Dark Eyes“ and “Don’t Blame Me”are taken up by the Hollywood Four Blazes a rather poor imitation of the King Cole Trio plus drums. Furthermore there are two vocal tracks by the club’s house singer, Monette Moore, “Rockin’ Chair” and “Killin’ Jive”.  She sounded just fine given the stellar support from the sextet.  Of the remaining tracks in this broadcast a McGhee original “Howard’s Blues” is a standout. Done with a boogie-woogie beat, McGhee uses a mute to fine effect, and Teddy Edwards slides in a great solo on clarinet, with pianist Vernon Biddle holding the beat with aplomb.

The recorded sides for Philo and Melodisc are next up and capture the band in pretty good form, although the latter offering may be slightly better as the band had just returned from being on the road for an extended period and was very together. Of the former “Mop Mop” again showcases McGhee’s command of the upper register where he flits with agility. The Hoagy Carmichael ballad “Stardust” opens with a striking cadenza and McGhee stays in a lyrical mode throughout the number. On the Melodisc numbers “Hoggin’ “ which is based on the chord changes of “Sweet Georgia Brown” is an up-tempo romp with some strong tenor playing from both Edwards and King while McGhee rips off his usual high notes. “Blues A La King” is a standard twelve-bar concoction with McGhee’s trumpet leading the way and tenor man J.D. King offering up a decent vocal with  Edwards’ tenor doing the fills.

A reformed sextet is featured on the AFRS transcriptions and it is a dandy. Sonny Criss, not quite twenty, is on alto and rising stars Hampton Hawes on piano and Addison Farmer on bass add a new dimension to the band. The Charlie Parker bop classic “Ornithology” starts the proceedings, showing the band was in command of the tricky chord changes and played with precision. “The Man I Love” was done as a swinger with everyone taking a well deserved solo turn. These are the last known recordings of this particular iteration of the band.

The era of pure bebop was probably 1945 to 1949 and so these Howard McGhee sessions are important to understand how this music developed on the West Coast during this period.

TrackList: Intro/Night Mist; A Night In Tunisia; Rockin’ Chair; Dark Eyes; Don’t Blame Me; Howard’s Blues; Killin’ Jive; The Man I Love; Mop Mop; Intersection; Stardust; Lifestream; Night Mist; Hoggin’; Sweet Potato; Blues A La King; Ornithology; Body And Soul; The Man I Love

—Pierre Giroux