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June 2008

Jack Sheldon
It’s What I Do
Butterfly Records

The band is the California Cool Quartet (with a trademark symbol no less!), led by the veteran trumpeter Jack Sheldon, with pianist Joe Bagg, bassist Bruce Lett and drummer Dick Weller. The approach is classical jazz: playing that honors repertoire with nods to the jazz tradition, in this case a tradition as beholden to West Coast or cool standards as to the musicians who composed or are associated with the repertoire. Sheldon himself belongs to more than one tradition, including that of singing jazz entertainer, i.e., his years with Merv Griffin, and big-band stalwart. Here he doesn’t sing and all the tunes, with the exception of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” are from giants of small group, modern 20th-century jazz: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. If you’re looking for new revelations into this repertoire, go elsewhere. But if you appreciate jazz classics and standards well played, with both knowledgeable esteem and creative insight, there’s a lot here to like. For one, Sheldon has a rich, full tone, one especially gorgeous on the two slow ballads, a “Naima” burnished to a refulgent glow reflecting Coltrane’s design, and a “Chelsea Bridge” intricately and deeply imagined.

Sheldon also still has considerable technique and flair at fast tempos and, even better, a facility for tailoring his solos to the individual demands of the tunes. For a quick lesson in the differences between arpeggios and fast runs in modal and bebop tunes, look no farther than his contrasting treatments of “Milestones” and “Four,” two of Miles’ classics. Bird’s “Steeplechase” and “Yardbird Suite,” both iconic bop anthems, find him suggesting the dialectic tension of bop, with swift linear harmony dominating the former and intricate melody the latter. On Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” the quartet shows how well Monk’s quirky ideas have been absorbed into the mainstream. Throughout there’s a lot of interplay, typified by the space, on a majority of the ten tracks, given to eight-, four- and two-bar exchanges, often accomplished with the nice twist of pairs of trades from trumpet or piano with the drums instead of just round robins, allowing for more thoughtful interaction.

Originally published in June 2008
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