1. Lullaby in Rhythm
2. East of the Sun
4. Laugh Cry
5. At Last
6. You Stepped Out of a Dream
7. Yesterday's Gardenias
8. Bock's Tops
9. Don't Worry 'bout Me
10. Backfield in Motion
11. The Eye Opener
12. Bojangles of Harlem
13. It's a New World
14. Blues in the Night
15. The Party's Over
16. Joey, Joey, Joey
17. Woody's Dot
18. Namely You
19. Love in a Home
20. Progress is the Root of All Evil
22. Invitation to the Blues
Russ Freeman - Piano
Bob Whitlock - Bass (tracks 1-3)
Bobby White - Drums (tracks 1-3)
Joe Mondragon - Bass (tracks 4-11)
Shelly Manne - Drums (tracks 4-21)
Bud Shank - Alto sax, flute (tracks 12-14)
Carson Smith - Bass (tracks 12-14)
Stu Williamson - Trumpet (tracks 18-21)
Monty Budwig - Bass (tracks 15-22)
Billy Bean - Guitar (track 22)
Mel Lewis - Drums (track 22)
Russ Freeman seems almost to be a forgotten jazzman, perhaps because he devoted most of the later part of his life to working as a musical director and creating film soundtracks. Yet earlier in his career, he was well-known, especially on the American West Coast, as a pianist who played for such people as Charlie Parker, Shelly Manne, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Benny Goodman and Chet Baker. I first noticed him putting plenty of drive into Shorty Rogers' Giants. If you haven't encountered Russ before, this batch of trio and quartet recordings from the 1950s will make a good introduction.
Freeman was a strongly swinging pianist, with elements of bebop in his style. He pepped up his playing by finding unexpected chords in the most well-worn tunes, or by inserting cheeky quotations into some numbers. And he worked very well with drummers, as you can hear in several recordings he made with Shelly Manne, with whom he stayed for more than ten years. Listen, for instance, to the three-way interplay by piano, bass and drums towards the end of Backfield in Motion. Note also the intricate time-changes in The Eye Opener. And Russ was a considerable composer, having written five of the tunes on this album.
The sounds are varied with the introduction of three extra musicians on some tracks. Altoist Bud Shank is the most impressive, playing with a high, dry tone similar to Paul Desmond and Lee Konitz. His plaintive flute is very attractive on It's a New World (a neglected Harold Arlen composition). Sadly, Bud only appears on three tracks.
Trumpeter Stu Williamson enters for four tacks, with a rather furry tone: understated rather than raucous. The other musician who brings the trio up to a quartet is guitarist Billy Bean, who is present for the final Invitation to the Blues, although Russ Freeman takes most of the solo space, proving his affinity with the blues.
Comprising 22 generous tracks totalling nearly 80 minutes, this is a CD well worth exploring.