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Complete Live at the Black Hawk

American Jazz Classics 99009



1. Summertime
2. Our Delight
3. Poinciana
4. Step Lightly
5. Black Hawk Blues

1. Cabu
2. Theme: A Gem from Tiffany
3. Blue Daniel
4. Whisper Not
5. How Deep Are the Roots
6. This Is Always
7. Wonder Why

1. Eclipse of Spain
2. Blue Daniel
3. Step Lightly
4. What's New?
5. Theme: A Gem from Tiffany
6. Vamp's Blues
7. Theme: A Gem from Tiffany

1. I Am in Love
2. Whisper Not (alternate take)
3. Cabu
4. Just Squeeze Me
5. Nightingale
6. Pullin' Strings
7. Theme: A Gem from Tiffany

Shelly Manne - Drums
Joe Gordon - Trumpet
Richie Kamuca - Tenor sax
Victor Feldman - Piano
Monty Budwig - Bass


When Shelly Manne took his quintet into San Francisco's Black Hawk club in September 1959, he thought they played so well that he suggested that his record company, Contemporary, should make a live album there. Originally Contemporary intended to make just one LP but eventually agreed to record all the sessions.

Shelly Manne & his Men had been in existence for several years, although there were various changes in the line-up which led to the personnel on this four-CD package. The group played typical "West Coast" jazz, which tended to steer a middle course between the heat of the beboppers and the laid-back style of the cool school. The ensemble here has been compared to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers but, although the line-up is similar, much of the music is less thrusting and hard-edged than that of the Messengers. Indeed, drummer Shelly Manne mostly stays in the background, except in extrovert tracks like Our Delight and the two versions of Cabu, which certainly embody Messengers-style excitement. At any rate, this band was not afraid to swing, nor to play melodic solos.

In this last respect, the outstanding players are tenorist Richie Kamuca and pianist Victor Feldman. The latter had emigrated to the USA two years before, when he was best-known as an exponent of the vibraphone, but he soon established himself as a pianist of note. On this album you can hear his clear touch, his inventiveness and his innate rhythmic sense (which may have come from his starting out as a drummer). These qualities are all clear in his piano feature Wonder Why, where he is joined simply by bass and drums. As for Richie Kamuca, his excellent solos are too plentiful to enumerate. Suffice it to say that they are consistently fluent and thoughtful.

Trumpeter Joe Gordon sometimes seems to suffer by comparison with these fine soloists. On the very first tune, Summertime, his tuning can be worryingly wayward, and his solos tend to sound less coherent than those of Kamuca or Feldman. Yet Gordon shows his best abilities in solos on such tracks as Step Lightly.

Monty Budwig underpins everything with his dependable double bass. His contribution is particularly vital on quieter numbers, where Shelly Manne plays gentle brushes and the rhythm is primarily laid down by Monty, with help from Victor Feldman's well-chosen comping.

This being a club date, several tunes are prolonged for around a dozen minutes, and two (Black Hawk Blues and Vamp's Blues) clock in at about 20 minutes each. This can make for longueurs, when the listener may feel that a soloist is being too self-indulgent. The quintet plays the theme A Gem from Tiffany several times to mark the limits of a session, but its final appearance is stretched out to allow solos from all the band members, including (unusually in this set) a drum solo.

Most of the original LP liner notes are reprinted on the sleeve, although these don't necessarily match the chronological order of the tracks on the four CDs. The sound quality is acceptable, although I (as a drummer) would have preferred more treble to make the drums more audible.

These Black Hawk sessions are undoubtedly of continuing interest, although a certain sameness creeps in if you unwisely try listening to all four CDs in succession. This is not the only important session recorded at the Black Hawk club, where Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis also taped significant performances. Sadly, the Black Hawk closed in 1963 and the site is now a car park.

Tony Augarde

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