Kenton Presents: Bob Cooper, Bill Holman, Frank Rosolino
In the mid-1950s, Stan Kenton cajoled or pressured Capitol Records into recording some of the best of his sidemen as leaders. The few "Kenton Presents" albums released before Capitol killed the series included superb sessions by Bill Holman and Frank Rosolino and good ones by Bob Cooper. This Mosaic set brings them together with 12 previously unissued tracks from Holman and Rosolino. It also resurrects Holman's Great Big Band album of 1960 and the instrumental tracks from the Cooper-June Christy show-tune album, Do-Re-Mi.
The 1954 and '55 Cooper sessions include Rosolino, Bud Shank, Jimmy Guiffre, Bob Enevoldsen, Claude Williamson and other Los Angeles regulars of the period. There are good solos, notably from Guiffre and Williamson, Cooper's writing was pretty ("Deep in a Dream"), academic ("Drawing Lines"), bloodless ("When the Sun Comes Out"), amusing ("She Didn't Say Yes"), and uniformly competent. In the first CD, the transition from Cooper's octet to Holman's is a jump from linear writing burdened by weight and busyness to linear writing without fat or wasted motion, with swing built into the lines. The 46 tracks Holman wrote for his groups and Rosolino's reduce to mid-size proportions the kind of line writing he was doing for the Kenton band. His mastery in "Song Without Words" here is the equal of that in his famous "Stella by Starlight," the ingenuity of the ensemble writing for four horns in "Where or When" in a league with that for four sections in "Fearless Finlay." Holman, Herb Geller, Bob Gordon, Don Fagerquist, and Conte Candoli are among the soloists, but the arranger is the star.
Rosolino's albums focused on his effervescence, trombone mastery and vocal foolery. They also gave Holman the opportunity to demonstrate how much music he could create for only two or three horns and a rhythm section. To hear Rosolino again is to be reminded that he may well have been the most astonishing trombone soloist ever. In these performances, alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano is a match for Rosolino in creativity and expressiveness.
Holman's 1960 Great Big Band is a great big band album. Startling in stereo after the mono of the mid-Fifties sides, his writing fairly reaches out of the speakers and wraps the listener in the warmth of his ensembles. The perfect Capitol recording makes it even clearer that the complexity of Holman's lines derives from his alchemy with many simple lines. Soloists include Rosolino, Candoli, Bill Perkins, Jimmy Rowles, and Lee Katzman, an unconventional trumpeter whose solo on "June Is Busting Out All Over" ends in a whoop of astonishment or joy. In five years, Holman's tenor playing has improved. His writing has intensified and taken on deeper colors. Arrangements like those on "Speak Low," "Lush Life" and "In a Sentimental Mood" could stand side-by-side in Holman's book with his latest works and not sound dated 40 years later. In fact, they do.
Cooper did a nice job in 1961 of adapting songs from the musical Do-Re-Mi. His writing was better than it was in 1955, with less heft and self-consciousness. His tenor playing had improved, and it continued to; toward the end of his life it was truly impressive. Cooper, Shank, Rosolino, Candoli, and Pete Jolly all solo well on material that accommodated itself to jazz more agreeably than might have been expected.
One of the fine features of this collection is the album notes by Sy Johnson, the pianist and arranger. Johnson's analyses and descriptions of the music are astute, helpful, straightforward and tough-minded.