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Various Artists: The West Coast Jazz Box: An Anthology of California Jazz

The rap on West Coast Jazz, that it was a bloodless, overly cerebral, pale imitation of the real thing as known in NYC, gets reconsideration here. The even paler productions of today’s wunderkinder should be enough to make even hard core hard bop fans nostalgic for this stuff. Contemporary has leased material recorded between 1950 and the mid ’60s from several other labels to compliment their own catalog. The organization is strictly chronological, which makes for quite a juggling act when trying to assemble music that varies keys, tempi, and feel to create a listenable effect. A good representation should also cover obvious and less obvious stylists and mix famous performances with less obvious but complimentary tracks. And while no two people would agree on exactly how this should be done, few will quibble with the extraordinary success rate of this generous package.

There are artists we don’t think of as “West Coast” even though they lived there (Ben Webster, Benny Carter, Ornette Coleman) and “guest” appearances by the likes of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. If this seems like cheating, it should be remembered that relatively few musicians were native New Yorkers and that out-of-towners on East Coast recordings went unnoticed. It is interesting to compare Rollins’ appearance with a California rhythm section and Art Pepper’s playing with “The” East Coast team of Garland, Chambers, and Jones. Great jazz, but no better than the local nexus of bands lead by Curtis Counce and Harold Land featuring pianists Elmo Hope and the desperately underrated Carl Perkins.

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