[JPL] Jazz Shots from the West Coast

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Aug 21 18:09:43 EDT 2006

Frank Zappa once told an audience during a jazz-influenced song, "Jazz is 
not dead, it just smells funny."

Jazz undoubtedly provides a large variety of aromas that the fan finds 
enticing or repulsive depending on individual tastes. MVD Entertainment 
Group seeks to explore one area of taste with its release of Jazz Shots 
from the West Coast, a three-volume series of DVDs of live performances 
culled from television broadcasts and jazz festivals and club performances. 
The focus is largely on artists associated with what became known as "West 
Coast jazz."

Like so much of music, words cannot really describe West Coast jazz for the 
uninitiated. Yet once you gain even a passing familiarity, you know it when 
you hear it. It is a derivation of bebop and a direct descendant of cool. 
Both cool and the West Coast sound (and there always has been a debate 
whether the West Coast sound is separate from our part of cool) are 
smoother, more lyrical expressions of bebop. Yet this series shows the 
broad range of the artists from the West Coast.

For example, Disc 1, released in June, opens with a piece by Art Pepper, a 
performer well within the West Coast sound. Yet the tune, "D. Section," is 
much more in the free jazz or post-bop style than the West Coast idiom. Yet 
the very next performer is Chet Baker, the trumpet player many would view 
as an epitome of the West Coast school. Like the West Coast sound itself, 
most of the performances on the three discs, the latter two released this 
month, are by smaller ensembles. Still, there is also the powerful big 
band, almost Hollywood sound, of Stan Kenton's 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mellophonium>mellephonium orchestra. 
Likewise, there is the more straightforward jazz sound from artists like 
Wes Montgomery.

Inclusion of the Kenton performances on Disc 3 is indicative of how the 
series blends icons of the genre with others. Kenton, for example, would 
not necessarily be considered a member of the West Coast sound. Soloists in 
his early bands, however, went on to become some of the luminaries in the 
subgenre. Similarly, saxophonist Lester Young, one of the founders of the 
cool sound, has two songs on Disc 2. The notes to the DVD specifically note 
that, although Young may not be part and parcel of the West Coast, he is 
included "due to his especially strong influence on the generations of 
saxophonists from that Coast."

Even in exploring the West Coast sound, the series does not limit itself to 
the icons. Not only are there a number of clips by such luminaries as the 
Gerry Mulligan Quartet and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, there are also 
performances by those perhaps lesser known to the public, such as Teddy 
Edwards (who gets three performances on Disc 2) and Jimmy Giuffre 
(performing with Jim Hall on Disc 3).

Most of the clips are in black and white. In fact, Discs 2 and 3 each have 
only one color performance. Yet perhaps because of the limitations of black 
and white, the camera operators seem to focus more on a performer's 
technique. The viewer gets more close-ups of the style of guitarists Hall 
and Montgomery and the sax and piano players than tend to occur in the 
color clips. In fact, some of the color clips seem more interested in soft 
focus fades and transitions than simply letting the viewer see the artist 
at work.

Another feeling flows from the black and white clips. The live performances 
are full of '50s-style sets, seemingly omnipresent white shirts with skinny 
black ties and an abundance of black horn rimmed glasses. After a while, 
you begin to feel as if you're part of one of Hugh Hefner's late 1950s 
Playboy's Penthouse TV shows. Yet that is one luxury the DVDs provide. The 
only intros are rare ones by the musicians and there is no post-performance 
talk. This is music for music's sake.

This doesn't mean the series is without flaws. Some are beyond MVD's 
control. For example, the sound limitations of the original means the DVDs 
come with only two-channel sound so those with home theater audio set-ups 
will see no benefit. The most glaring flaws, however, could easily have 
been avoided.

Whether it was just the review copies or a production-wide mistake, the 
artist and track listings on the covers for Discs 2 and 3 do not match what 
appears on the DVDs. Going by the listings, Disc 2 opens with the Miles 
Davis Quintet with John Coltrane and Disc 3 opens with the Bill Evans Trio. 
Those discs actually open with Montgomery and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, 
respectively. While any jazz fan would love to see the Davis and Evans 
clips (and many of the others listed on the cases for those two DVDs), it 
seems apparent the track listings belong on a contemporaneously released 
East Coast series. There is no correlation whatsoever between the one-sheet 
covers (the front of which plainly state they are the West Coast series) 
and what appears on the DVD. As a result, the only way to get track 
listings is on the DVD itself.

Also undercutting the value of the series is a stunning lack of context. 
The discs and boxes contain no information about when or where the 
performances were recorded. This is dismaying for several reasons. There 
may be an intangible effect on the performance. Someone like Montgomery or 
even Mulligan may select different approaches or tunes depending on whether 
it is a club date or television appearance, the location of a club date, 
the make-up of the audience and any time limitations.

More important, the viewer cannot necessarily place the performance in the 
scheme of the artist's career or the development of the sound. Given the 
fact the sole Chet Baker clip is in color and his somewhat aged appearance, 
it may be safe to conclude this was a performance later in his career, 
perhaps during the time he was living and performing almost exclusively in 
Europe. There is, however, no way to know. Likewise, because valve 
trombonist Bob Brookmeyer appears with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, we can 
speculate that the performance was recorded sometime from 1954 to 1957, the 
only time when Brookmeyer was part of the Mulligan Quartet. Yet the viewer 
shouldn't be forced to research or speculate about such things.

Further compounding this flaw is that with few exceptions the DVDs and 
their boxes do not identify the performers other than the leader. When the 
occasional changes in the makeup of jazz groups is combined with the lack 
of information about when the performance was recorded, the average viewer 
cannot determine who is performing with Young, Brubeck, or Montgomery. One 
exception is the occasional clip where the ensemble is billed as featuring 
a particular artist, such as Brookmeyer with the Mulligan Quartet. The 
other is the broadcast of three pieces by Teddy Edwards on Disc 2 put the 
names of soloists on the screen as they played.

As a result, the series serves as little more than a brief introduction to 
or overview of the West Coast sound. While both fans and newcomers will 
find some excellent music, their understanding and full appreciation of it 
is marred by the lack of information surrounding the performances.

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99 

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