Pacificjazzpiano_span3
January/February 2006

Russ Freeman, Richard Twardzik, Jimmy Rowles, Clare Fischer
Mosaic Select 19: The Pacific Jazz Piano Trios
Mosaic Records

Despite degrees of separation and musical style, Mosaic's throwing together of these pianists affiliated with West Coast jazz of the 1950s and early '60s makes sense, largely because each has too little or too much to fill one disc alone. This three-CD set, available only from mosaicrecords.com, is the perfect solution.

Russ Freeman's name usually comes in the same breath as Chet Baker, since the pianist served as a member and musical director of Baker's first quartet. By the time Freeman recorded as a leader in 1952 and 1953, he proved that Bud Powell's influence had already resonated across the country. Most of these 14 tracks appeared on Pacific Jazz 10-inch records, with Shelly Manne drumming on all but one session and Joe Mondragon or Red Mitchell playing bass. Freeman brings a funky lilt to Charlie Parker's "Steeplechase" and several standards, but most significant are his inventive originals like "Laugh Cry" and "Bock's Tops," which evoke Horace Silver.

Richard Twardzik's output as a leader amounts to a mere seven songs. A Boston native, he fell in with the Pacific Jazz camp when he replaced Freeman for a Baker tour of Paris, where he overdosed in 1955 at age 24. Rarely do "What if?" questions seem so appropriate. His "Albuquerque Social Swim" is the most schizophrenic original this side of "Glass Enclosure," where heavy block chords get interrupted by the opening phrase of "Joy to the World" and a stop-start bridge. "Bess, You Is My Woman" and a theme-only reading of "'Round Midnight" reveal greater musical depth.

Jimmy Rowles liked ballads and "easy jump tunes," and it shows on Rare--But Well Done. His ballads get a little twinkly, revealing West Coast jazz's lounge tendencies. But patience is rewarded, since Rowles almost always comes through with lyrical solos. Two songs from later sessions are tacked onto his set, including a more authoritative "Sonny Speaks" with Ben Tucker and Mel Lewis on bass and drums, respectively.

Clare Fischer gets the most space in the set: five tracks on disc two and all of disc three. And there's no questioning it: Teamed with future free jazz bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Gene Stone on First Time Out, they stick mainly to originals that have plenty of kick. Surging Ahead includes the dark blue homage "Strayhorn" and 12/8 treatment of "Davenport Blues."

Of Fischer's three previously unreleased tracks, most interesting is "Lennie's Pennies," wherein he, bassist Albert Stinson and drummer Colin Bailey put Professor Tristano's influence to good use.

Originally published in January/February 2006
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