Various Artists

West Coast Jazz Box: An Anthology of California Jazz

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This is, to be sure, a dangerous title for an album whose scope has been narrowed to about 15 years in the middle of the 20th century. Yet this four-CD box tries admirably to explode the old clichés about West Coast jazz, emphasizing specific coteries of Southern Californian and Bay Area musicians (with a few visitors from the Big Apple) yet refusing to limit itself to any one style. Fantasy also roams far outside its own massive archives (mostly the Contemporary label) for material, raiding EMI's Pacific Jazz vault heavily, supplemented by bits and pieces from Capitol, Atlantic, Warner Bros., and Verve. So what we get is a complex mosaic of music, from the fading Central Avenue bop scene of Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon to Shelly Manne's small ensemble experiments; from Sonny Rollins' inspired hard bop to the first glimmerings of Ornette Coleman's revolution; from the Latin-accented Cal Tjader group to Laurindo Almeida and Bud Shank's early gropings toward Brazilian jazz. The package is slanted heavily in the direction of Los Angeles, where most of the recording activity on the West Coast took place anyway, and it sneaks in a Jimmy Giuffre Trio number taped in New York City (which, despite the notes' sheepish defense, doesn't make sense with so much Left Coast material to choose from). Stan Kenton, the key incubator for many leading West Coast musicians, is represented by a Bill Holman chart, "Fearless Finlay," and we also hear a relaxed example of one of Holman's own big bands ("No Heat"), Terry Gibbs' fevered Dream Band, and the famous Gerald Wilson rendition of "Viva Tirado." Naturally, there is an ample dose of the cool, cerebral idiom that East Coasters point to as distinctly Californian, but it is overwhelmed by the other, often energetic styles that resonated in the studios and clubs. In essence, while providing much superb jazz in one handsome, colorfully illustrated box, this anthology has the effect of destroying the notion that there is such a thing as a West Coast sound at all -- thus rendering superfluous all future attempts to pin labels on California music. But, of course, that won't happen anytime soon.

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