Shelly Manne And His Men – Complete Live At The Black Hawk ★★★★★

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Shelly ManneAmerican Jazz Classics

Joe Gordon (t), Richie Kamuca (ts), Victor Feldman (p), Monty Budwig (b) and Shelly Manne (d). Rec. 22-24 September 1959

That tired old chestnut: Who hangs around with musicians? A drummer! Still remains as unfunny as it is inaccurate. The fact remains, that from Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson through to Art Blakey, Max Roach, Chico Hamilton, Roy Haynes and beyond – give the drummer a bunch of matching band jackets and, contrary to expectations, he’ll assemble a highly musical aggregation. East Coast! West Coast! Doesn’t matter, for what we have here are four albums’ worth of the finest hard bop ever recorded (a fifth volume of outtakes was released much later and not included here) which ranks along side of similar outings by market leaders Art Blakey, Horace Silver and others. Hand on heart, this is one of my all-time favorite live albums – no question about it, they don’t come more celebrated than this 1959 club date by Shelly Manne And His Men.

Throughout his lengthy recording career, Shelly Manne had the knack of always attracting just the right horn players to essay the equally distinctive closely-knit ‘Men’ signature sound. Elsewhere, these have included the less obvious pairings of Stu Williamson and Charlie Mariano or Conte Candoli and Herb Geller. For this genuinely breath-taking set, it’s the slightly lesser known yet highly inventive Joe Gordon (trumpet) and Richie Kamuca (tenor sax) who joined Monty Budwig (bass) and the great Victor Feldman (depping for regular pianist Russ Freeman) that the ever inventive Shelly fronted at The Black Hawk. Together they performed music of Olympian stature.

Live albums can expose a band’s shortcomings. This is not the case here. This is not a clichéd blowing date by a long shot. These performances possess a genuine sense of purpose. Never once do any of the participants drift off on a tangent or fall back on water-treading licks. This is prime cut straight ahead excitement which covers jazz standards ‘Our Delight’ and ‘Whisper Not’, a couple of Victor Feldman originals ‘Eclipse Of Spain’ and ‘Pullin’ Strings’, Horace Silver’s seldom aired ‘How Deep Are The Roots’ and four shots at the Men’s mind-worm of a signature tune – Bill Holman’s ‘Theme: A Gem From Tiffany’. If you don’t already own this genuinely indispensible set of recordings then there really is a serious gap in your life.

– Roy Carr