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Jake Fryer/Bud Shank Quintet: In Good Company

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This album will likely bring more attention to Jake Fryer but that will come in part from the fact that In Good Company will be known as the album Bud Shank recorded the day before he passed away. This doesn’t mean that the British musician (like Shank, an alto saxophonist) is using his elder’s death as his meal ticket. But it does overshadow the session just a bit.

On the flipside, the album proves that up until the very end, Shank’s head was crammed with strong melodic ideas that placed him above the category of typical West Coast jazz players. His execution might not have kept up with his brain at all times, but even when he fumbles a little, the fire never dims. As an example, during his solo in the opening charge of “Caravan,” Shank misses a high interval and emits an accidental squeak, which he weaves into the solo without losing his focus. Fryer comes across as an equally fleet-fingered soloist who serves as a good foil to Shank. (“Breaking Loose” serves as an appropriate title to one original, considering his performance and how gruff he gets in that tune.). A close listen might be needed to distinguish the younger and older altos since they aren’t strictly separated by channels, which goes a long way towards proving Fryer’s abilities.

The liner notes call the album a blowing session, and it does possess a thrown-together feel. “Speak Low” fades out before getting to a closing chorus. Significantly, the two saxophonists rarely play simultaneously in the opening choruses. They trade phrases during “Bopping with Bud,” but typically Shank handles the themes on the standards while Fryer directs his originals.

Shank’s regular rhythm section-pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Joe LaBarbera-round out the group. Sometimes they set the tempo and go on cruise control without really pushing the horns, but they too cut loose every so often. “The Time Lord,” written as a showcase for LaBarbera, has the most vitality of the session, courtesy of both the drummer and Magnusson.

During these recordings (all done taken in first takes) there was no way of knowing Shank would die so soon, so this was just another session for all involved. As such, In Good Company sometimes sounds just another day in the studio, but during the tunes where all the players connect and gave a strong, collective push, they make up for the slower moments.

Originally Published