The Dave Pell Octet was the epitome of mid-'50s West Coast jazz. With its tight arrangements, concise performances (usually around three minutes long despite the rise of the LP), soft tones, and distinctive brand of restrained swing, Pell's ensemble was a perfect representative of cool jazz. The ensemble originally was part of the Les Brown Big Band, gaining an independent life of its own in 1955. This valuable reissue CD from 1998 has all of the first 13 selections that Pell recorded for Capitol -- eight from 1955 and the remainder from 1957 -- plus four titles (one previously unissued) led by trumpeter Don Fagerquist with a similar band in 1955 (one of only two opportunities that the underrated great had to head his own date). Dave Pell's four-horn, four-rhythm group includes Fagerquist, either Bob Gordon or Ronny Lang on baritone, the leader on tenor, trombonist Ray Sims, guitarist Tony Rizzi, pianist Paul Smith, drummer Jack Sperling, and one of three bassists. The Fagerquist group differs in that, instead of a trombone, he featured three tenors (Pell, Zoot Sims, and Bill Holman). The arrangements (by Marty Paich, Wes Hensel, Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman, Jack Montrose, and Andre Previn) put an emphasis on melody, subtle surprises, and light swing, even at faster tempos. Basic originals alternate with updated versions of standards (mostly from the swing era). Of the soloists, Fagerquist and Rizzi come off best, although Pell also fares quite well. Although this style of West Coast jazz is largely extinct decades later (other than the notable Phil Norman Tentet), the music still sounds quite fresh and timeless. The Dave Pell Octet's many other recordings (for Trend, Kapp, Atlantic, Victor, and Coral) are out of print, so grab this valuable CD while you can.
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AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow