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Four Classic Albums





Chet Baker Quartet Featuring Russ Freeman

  1. Long Ago And Far Away

  2. Happy Little Sunbeam

  3. Moon Love

  4. Bea's Flat

  5. No Ties

  6. Band Aid

  7. The Thrill Is Gone

  8. All The Things You Are

    Chet Baker - Trumpet

    Russ Freeman - Piano

    Carson Smith - Bass

    Larry Bunker - Drums

    Russ Freeman And Chet Baker Quartet

  1. Love Nest

  2. Fan Tan

  3. Summer Sketch

  4. An Afternoon At Home

  5. Say When

  6. Lush Life

  7. Amblin

  8. Hugo Hurwhey

    Chet Baker - Trumpet

    Russ Freeman - Piano

    Leroy Vinegar - Bass

    Shelly Manne - Drums


    Russ Freeman Trio Featuring Joe Mondragon And Shelly Manne

  1. Yesterday's Gardenias

  2. Bock's Tops

  3. Don't Worry About Me

  4. Backfield In Motion

  5. You Stepped Out Of A Dream

  6. Laugh Cry

  7. At Last

  8. The Eye Opener

    Russ Freeman - Piano

    Joe Mondragon - Bass

    Shelly Manne - Drums

    Andre Previn And Russ Freeman - Double Play!

  1. Take Me Out To The Ball Game

  2. Who's On First?

  3. Called On Account Of Rain

  4. In The Cellar Blues

  5. Batter Up

  6. Double Play

  7. Safe At Home

  8. Fungo

  9. Strike Out The Band

  10. Andre Previn, Russ Freeman - Piano

    Shelly Manne - Drums

It's a great gift to be an exemplary performer in your own right but also to have the capacity to inspire others so that their best work is done in your company. Chicago-born pianist Russ Freeman was someone like that. Associated with the West Coast jazz movement in the US, he was regarded in some critical circles as technically accomplished but perhaps rather cerebral and lacking depth of feeling. The recordings in this two-CD, four album, collection provide evidence to the contrary. After all, this is someone who formed at least two memorable partnerships, one with Chet Baker and the other with Shelly Manne and helped those two West Coast stars achieve even greater heights of creativity. The collaboration with Chet is represented by two of the albums to be found here, on the first disc. Although Shelly Manne plays drums on three of the albums in this package, Freeman's work as a duo with Manne and his long involvement with Shelly Manne and his Men is absent from this particular selection. What can be found here is another interesting encounter for Freeman, this time with fellow-pianist André Previn. The albums overall contain eighteen compositions by Freeman and one joint effort with Previn. In spite of the presence of some fine standards too, Freeman's tunes more than hold their own.

The Chet Baker Quartet featuring Russ Freeman set contains some gems. Moon Love presents the kind of moody, sensitive interpretation of a ballad that appealed to lovers of Baker's often melancholy style. Freeman is content to take a back seat except for a brief but telling solo. By way of contrast, Bea's Flat (a Freeman original) is an urgent piece, with roots firmly planted in bop. It is taken at effortless speed by Baker, ably supported by the rest of the crew, especially Freeman. No Ties with its characteristically West Coast counterpoint and The Thrill Is Gone aren't far behind for quality. We are treated to a stirring solo by Freeman on All The Things You Are. The second collaboration with Chet goes under the title Quartet:Russ Freeman/Chet Baker and dates from three years later. It gives a further demonstration of their musical compatibility. Love Nest has the great Leroy Vinegar laying down the bass line, Manne on bustling form on drums and a lively Freeman while Chet Baker plays with energy and style. Summer Sketch is probably one of Freeman's finest compositions. It's a lovely melody delivered with sensitivity and feeling. Baker's purity of tone is admirable. Another Freeman piece, An Afternoon At Home, is a catchy number, full of enjoyable moments. Vinegar serves up a vibrant bass solo and Manne, as always, is immaculate on drums. The two principals are fluent, without being facile. Amblin, the longest track anywhere in this collection, showcases somewhat minimalist trumpet from Baker, accompanied by a distinctly bluesy piano and backed by empathetic bass and drums. This album is the pick of the bunch, if only by a short head.

The Russ Freeman Trio album has a couple of stand-out tracks. Yesterday's Gardenias shows us a trio in total harmony with each other, playing with vitality and invention. Russ Freeman is conspicuously good. Don't Worry About Me is a lyrical rendering by Freeman of a classic ballad. The quality of the album overall may be slightly below that which can be found elsewhere in this collection. Nevertheless, most tracks contain something to delight the ear. To give but one example, Bock's Tops (love the pun!) proves to be a sprightly tribute to Richard Bock, famed record producer and a founder of Pacific Jazz. The final album, Double Play, is the Freeman/Previn collaboration. Nowadays, such recordings seem more frequent, witness the forays of Chick Corea into this field (i.e. two pianists) with the likes of Hiromi or Stefano Bollani, or the partnership of Brad Mehldau with Kevin Hays on the Modern Music disc (2011). Admittedly, Shelly Manne is there in the background on this album so purists may argue it isn't precisely the same in terms of line-up but I think the point about novelty still holds. Be that as it may, Freeman and Previn make a potent combination. Take Me Out To The Ball Game is given a sparkling treatment, leavened with humour. Called On Account Of Rain is a Previn composition, slower, more reflective and with it's own beauty. Meanwhile, In The Cellar Blues, jointly credited to Freeman and Previn but improvised at the end of a recording session in one take, is a gentle, relaxed and as authentically blues-tinged as the title suggests. Freeman's Double Play, the title track, makes for good listening with its use of counterpoint. It is thoroughly accessible. And should you decide Shelly Manne is merely there to make up the numbers, Strike Out The Band will disabuse you of that.

Russ Freeman emerges from these recordings as one of the leading pianists of the West Coast coterie of those days, as well as a composer a cut above most in his generation. These two CDs are rewarding, not simply as a celebration of his gifts but offer us the chance to hear once more those significant others with whom he worked.

James Poore

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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