- Lady Bee
- Mine Still
- 12 By 5
- New Horizons
- Blues In The Dark
- Loving Man
- Heard and Seen
- You Stepped Out Of A Dream
- Dearly Beloved
Tommy Whittle (tenor saxophone): Harry Klein (baritone saxophone): Eddie Thompson (piano): Ken Sprang (bass): Jackie Dougan (drums)
Recorded 1958-59 [54:53]
Look at the band personnel; superb. Apart from the Canadian bassist, Ken Sprang, about whom not that much is known, every member was or is a front line British star. The thirteen tracks are culled from one LP (Easy Listening with Tommy Whittle and Friends) and one EP (remember them?) called Touch of Latin. The LP was on Ember, the EP on Saga. This is the complete issued output of Tommy Whittle's Quartet during 1958 and '59. Fortunately the transfers are excellent, and the booklet documentation is classy with some excellently reproduced black and white photographs.
Whittle and baritone sax player Harry Klein shared front line duties and Eddie Thompson, later to take off for a New York sojourn, is the ever articulate pianist. Jackie Dougan is the swinging drummer; Sprang is excellent too. Not much could really go wrong. The only thing I regret is that the LP featured an all-original programme; Whittle contributed five songs, Klein and Thompson two apiece. Whilst it's good to go beyond literalism and limited repertoire, a group like this could easily have imported at least a couple of standards and stretched out a bit.
Fortunately themes are strong, construction solid and interpretation ensures a good parcelling out of solos. Whittle drew on a definite tonal and expressive range of influences - Zoot Sims in the case of the bluesy licks on Howl and Don Byas in the case of Whittle's fine ballad Lullabye; note here how Klein's entry inspires tempo doubling. Thompson's Mine Still is a solo with rhythm and ends with some classy trades, and we hear another such Thompson number on Loving Man, more evidence of his fluency and great harmonic ideas. We're back to the full band in Whittle's 12 By 5, a swinging bop opus saturated in blues including a quotation or two along the way (not my favourite thing to hear). Dougan takes a solo on New Horizons, showing why he was one of the top drummers in the country at the time.
The EP consisted of four standards, played by the same band and recorded a year or so earlier than the LP. Fluency is the word once again for the seamless efficiency of the band. They play some good changes, take fine solos, bring some Latino rhythms to the table, a few cute cross-rhythms too, the saxophones trade and Thompson provides exemplary support whether comping or soloing. It's not quite top notch as a session but pretty good.
This is a fine opportunity to salute a classy band, not least because these tracks have never before made it to CD.