The contributions of Wardell Gray are often overlooked due to his premature death from a drug overdose in 1955, but this promising tenor saxophonist caught the ears of fellow West Coast musicians. This bop-oriented date was recorded in 1952 during a live engagement at the Haig (the famous tiny club where the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet became famous). Gray is joined by trumpeter Art Farmer, pianist Hampton Hawes, bassist Joe Mondragon, and drummer Shelly Manne, making up a powerful quintet. Although the horn soloists aren't always heard as well as the rhythm section, they are clearly inspiring one another. Highlights include a spirited take of "Bernie's Tune," a romp through Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," and "Jackie," a smoky, brisk blues riff by Hampton Hawes in which Gray sounds a bit like Dexter Gordon, his old bandstand sparring partner. Wardell Gray takes top solo honors, but not by much. The source material, which is quite good for the era, is evidently from a radio broadcast.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden