Shortcake Has Berry on Top

This 1978 set, featuring cornetist/arranger Bill Berry, backed by some of L.A.'s top jazz musicians, offers a time capsule into a not too distant past when both Pablo and Concord Records documented a still vital recording and gigging Southern California jazz scene that I'm not sure still exists. Players include many familiar jazz veterans such as Lew Tabackin (tenor sax/flutes), Bill Watrous (trombone), Dave Frishberg (piano), Monty Budwig (bass), and Frankie Capp (drums).

Berry's arrangements for quintet and septet are reminiscent of small, swinging groups Duke Ellington used to like to assemble-not surprising since Berry played with Ellington briefly during the early 1960s.

The set opens with the familiar “Avalon,” arranged for quintet, and driven hard by the rhythm section of Monty Budwig and Frankie Capp, who take the tune at a torrid pace. Berry's muted cornet is set against Mundell Lowe's lithe, liquid electric guitar lines, with Frishberg comping gently below on piano. Each musician gets a chance to stretch including Capp, whose kit is splayed across the soundstage on this closely miked studio date.

The playing is crisp, exciting and accomplished, but hardly groundbreaking or unusual. Better is “Betty,” a Berry original ballad reminiscent of a pungent Ellington composition, with long, languid saxophone lines from Royal that uncurl and blossom sensuously like time lapse photography of a flower.

“Bloose,” another Berry original, in which he also plays vibes, is a cool, Henry Mancini style seven-minute side closer showcasing Allen Broadbent's piano and Lew Tabackin's flute, driven by Chuck Berghofer's walking bass lines. Berry takes the tune most of the way home with a long, loose cornet solo followed by Tabackin on juicy tenor blasts and Royal on a twisting alto turn.

The mix and match sequencing approach to the septet/sextet sessions keeps the set interesting throughout, but while the playing is always arresting and the arrangements colorful, this is not a session with any historical significance. It's just fun. And it's exceedingly well recorded-at least as a closely-miked studio document. There's no attempt at creating a natural soundstage, or of sizing instruments proportionally. The sonic draw is based on intimate portraits of the various instruments, which are harmonically, texturally, and especially dynamically compelling and convincingly transparent. Expect Berry's cornet to appear in three dimensions near the end of your nose, while the tom toms occasionally dance across the width of the stage.

Berry's most famous “audiophile” record is the M&K Sound Realtime Direct to Disk recording For Duke (RT-101) which I think still fetches big bucks, and is worth the money. Also worth finding is Lew Tabackin's Trackin' another direct to disk session cut at 45rpm and pressed in Japan (RCA RDC-3).

While this recording lacks the “purist” audiophile intentions of those, it is an extremely attractive, well-recorded studio set that provides plenty of musical nourishment and plain old ear candy, spread over 4 sides of 180g vinyl expertly mastered by the great veteran cutting engineer Stan Ricker. Well done!

sophia123's picture

His music are compare to berries. it is sweet as berries. I adore much this fruit as much as I do to Berry. - Online Reputation Management