Jazz CD Reviews

Bud Shank Quartet – Fascinating Rhythms – Jazzed Media

Swan song for a life well lived….

Published on August 8, 2009

Bud Shank Quartet – Fascinating Rhythms – Jazzed Media

Bud Shank Quartet – Fascinating Rhythms – Jazzed Media  JM1045, 78:33 *****:

(Bud Shank, alto sax; Bill Mays, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums)

Bud Shank’s death on April 2, 2009 hit me particularly hard. We all know that the 1940s to 1960s jazz legends are steadily leaving us, but it makes it no easier when we are confronted with a death of a special favorite of ours. I saw Bud Shank play last October at a Los Angeles Jazz Institute weekend extravaganza – this one devoted to Latin legends Candido and Armando Peraza. I was scared and saddened when I viewed Bud Shank in a wheel chair, hooked up to oxygen and being pushed by attendants up to the stage for his set. I wondered whether Bud would have the strength to play, or would he be a shadow of his prior greatness, where he blended lyricism with a growling edginess, as only Bud could do. Well, it was miraculous, as after the oxygen was disconnected and Bud helped onto the stage, there was an immediate transformation as the “old” Bud took charge. His voice was strong, his wit intact, and his alto blowing steady, strong, and vibrant as ever. This was a pro conserving his decreasing energy and wind for his time on stage.  I was heartened and felt that if anyone could beat the inevitable grim reaper for awhile, it was Bud. After his set, Bud was back in the wheelchair, hooked back up to oxygen and wheeled back into the hotel to pats on the back and words of encouragement from the largely elderly audience.

It was later announced that Bud would be doing a live recording at The Jazz Bakery in Culver City in Jan. 2009, just a few months later. I eagerly awaited release of the best of the three night engagement on the Jazzed Media label, knowing that the label’s owner, Graham Carter would only release the CD if Bud’s playing was up to the standard that his fans would expect. I can happily say that Fascinating Rhythms is Bud ending his recording career with a flourish. Initially the theme of the CD was to be a bossa nova Brazilian flavor. Graham suggested to Bud, however, that he open it up to other “cultures, time signatures, and rhythms.” Bud happily was open to Graham’s suggestion and the resulting CD shines. We could expect no less from a renaissance musician who for over six decades did things his own way ranging from stays with the Charlie Barnet and Stan Kenton’s big bands to 1950s West Coast jazz, including dabbling in surf music of the day. Stops with the Lighthouse All-Stars and Bob Cooper were followed by an extended stay with the LA 4, where Bud explored Brazilian themes with guitarist Laurindo Almeida. Later session work with television and film work kept Bud busy. He dropped the flute in later years and concentrated on the alto, and re-explored be-bop leanings. His tenure as director with the Centrum Jazz Festival in Port Townsend helped establish that Festival as a place where both young and veteran jazz musicians could interact and have the jazz tradition passed on.

I was lucky enough to hear Bud play several times in the Northwest with pianist Bill Mays, and found their interaction to be uncanny as their “communication” was both creative and witty. For Bud’s Jazz Bakery live recording, Mays is along, backed by veterans Bob Magnusson, and the brilliant West Coast-based Joe LaBarbera, one of the final drummers for the incomparable Bill Evans.

Chicane opens with Mays setting up Bud for bossa nova blowing. Mays’ piano sparkles, a testament to recording engineer Paul Pegas, and the mixing and mastering of the great Rod Nicas. LaBarbera’s drum mix and Magnusson’s steady bass are perfectly up front. You can tell that Bud still had his chops just over two months before he passed away. Bud’s reading of Over the Rainbow is deeply moving, much like Art Pepper accomplished in his last years. Both knew their time was short, yet poured out their guts in passionate ballad readings with an edge, saying, “Hey, I’m still here…” Purchase of this CD just to hear Bud emote on Over the Rainbow would be enough.

The title track gets a retro introduction by Mays before Bud swings through the changes with aplomb. You can feel the fun the quartet has with this chestnut. Night and Day follows with Magnusson featured initially with Mays and LaBarbera following, setting a reflective mood. Bud steps in and adds his touch, both lyrical and with a bop growl. It entices the listener to sit up and pay attention, knowing we’ve got pros here, not just musicians going thru the motions.

A medley of Lotus Bud/No More Blues brings the Shorty Rogers bossa nova written for Bud’s flute, full circle from bossa nova to a straight jazz based blues. This extended track provides Mays and Magnusson an opportunity to really stretch out in their solos, and each shine.

In Walked Bud, written by Monk, is a respectful relatively straight ahead arrangement where Mays once again shows he can tackle anything and make it sparkle like a new diamond, and Mr. Shank blows great bop at a drop of a hat! Lover Man is next and Shank is as passionate and moving as this standard deserves. Mays interacts with Bud and their long association together brings an ease that belies the talent shown. Manteca brings a bittersweet ending to the CD as Dizzy Gillespie’s classic provides over twelve minutes for Bud to blow at a frenetic pace, going out without a thought that this alto genius had slowed a lick. No, Bud Shank the artist and restless musician went out with a fully lit torch, and not a flickering flame!

This CD is a must purchase for the numerous fans of Bud Shank. There will not be another like him. We have Graham Carter of Jazzed Media to thank for providing Shank with a classy supportive label to end his career without having to compromise his craft.  RIP, Bud Shank, and thanks for all the memories….

TrackList: Chicane, Over the Rainbow, Fascinating Rhythms, Night and Day, Lotus Bud/ No More Blues, In Walked Bud, Lover Man, Manteca

- Jeff Krow




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