When people think of the baritone horn, they think of marching bands -- not jazz. But in the 1950s, Gus Mancuso demonstrated that the baritone horn (which shouldn't be confused with the baritone sax) could, in fact, work as a jazz instrument. Although Mancuso played a variety of other instruments -- including trombone, trumpet, vibes, and piano -- it was his baritone horn playing that made him one of bop's innovators. Released in 2001, Gus Mancuso & Special Friends reissues two albums that he recorded for Fantasy in the 1950s, Introducing Gus Mancuso and Music From New Faces, back to back on a single CD. The special friends that the title refers to include guitarist Eddie Duran, pianist Vince Guaraldi, tenor saxman Richie Kamuca, bassist Red Mitchell, and Cal Tjader, who is heard on drums instead of his usual vibes. It was Tjader, in fact, who brought Mancuso to Fantasy's attention. Throughout these 1956-1958 recordings, Mancuso makes the baritone horn sound perfectly natural as a jazz instrument. Mancuso swings delightfully on the up-tempo selections, and he shows how lyrical a baritone horn player can be on ballads like "Ev'ry Time" and "Guess Who I Saw Today." Regrettably, the CD's credits contain a major error: inside the CD booklet, Mancuso's instrument is misidentified as the baritone sax instead of the baritone horn -- Fantasy's proofreaders should have caught that one. However, Fantasy does get it right on the back cover, where Mancuso is correctly identified as a baritone horn player. And despite the unfortunate boo-boo inside the CD booklet, Gus Mancuso & Special Friends is highly recommended to bop enthusiasts.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson