The Los Angeles-based Contemporary label became known as a prime vehicle for so-called West Coast jazz, but that tag isn't as narrowly focused as some in the East Coast jazz establishment would still have you believe. Just check out this sampler from the heart of Contemporary's heyday, which gives you an ear-opening sketch -- if not covering every detail -- of what was being recorded out West. The speed-demon bop of tenor saxman Teddy Edwards and trumpeter Howard McGhee on "Up There" explodes the outdated theory that this brand of high-strung jazz could not have possibly existed in laid-back Los Angeles around the middle of the 20th century. Or how about Art Pepper recording "Star Eyes" with Miles Davis' visiting world-class rhythm section -- or Sonny Rollins ambling through his own contribution to the cowboy-song literature, "Way Out West" -- or a hardy holdover from the big-band era like Helen Humes singing "Million Dollar Secret" with an ad hoc big band loaded with all-stars -- or Ornette Coleman just starting to shake up the jazz world with "Invisible" -- or the catchy Afro-Cuban groove from the Kenton kitchen that Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars serve up in "Witch Doctor No. 2." Missing in action, ironically, are some of the very stereotypes that were usually referred to as typical traits of West Coast jazz, like examples of relaxed, cool small groups or the label's third stream experiments that were little-understood in their time. Indeed, once you get to the end of the CD, the only thing that seems to unify this collection is the sound -- not the West Coast sound, but the consistently clean-lined, shockingly crisp sonics that label owner Lester Koenig insisted upon.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell