Drummer Shelly Manne was thirty-nine years of age when he cut these lengthy sides of live jazz at the Black Hawk night club in San Francisco in mid-September of 1959. The intimacy of the venue was ideal for recording purposes and thanks to the wonders of digital technology the transfer here is a wonderfully clear one. Manne opted on these sessions for a quintet comprising tenorist Richie Kamuca, who sounds throughout as though he is under the influence of Hank Mobley, trumpeter Joe Gordon, pianist Victor Feldman (soon to become a member of the transitional Miles Davis group of the early-mid 1960s before the great mid-1960s quintet took shape) and Monty Budwig on bass. Both Budwig and Manne would thereafter perform regularly as part of rhythm sections and this included a brief sojourn as part of the Bill Evans piano trio on the album ‘Empathy’. Proceedings get off to a relaxed start with a gently reposing ‘Summertime’ and Gordon plays on muted harmon in a fashion that Miles Davis had perfected at the time. Matters speed up significantly on the next number, a rousing and slightly too rapid for this writer’s taste take on ‘Poinciana’, which is transformed into a neo-bop number with Kamuca undertaking an all-out assault on the tune. The second DC is notable for the inclusion of a Horace Silver composition, ‘How deep are the roots’ and the ensemble playing has all the hallmarks of the Jazz Messengers with unison horns in the intro and overall a classic mid-1950s feel, yet deeply soulful for all that. A leisurely ballad, ‘Whisper Not’, penned by Benny Golson, offers Kamuca the opportunity to lay down some warm tones while Feldman is content to comp in the background. Two twenty-minute blues have something of a jam session atmosphere and ‘Black Hawk Blues is the pick of these. The final CD features a lyrical take on Cole Porter’s ‘I am in love’ with Gordon taking the lead on the main theme while a lesser known piece from the Duke Ellington cannon, ‘Just squeeze me’, receives a most delicate of interpretations with sensitive piano and horns working in unison to good effect.
Stylistically, the West Coast label did not fit all musicians that originated from that geographical location with Ornette Coleman being an obvious example while even Mr. cool school himself, Chet Baker, could blow hot when performing with musicians on the East Coast. However, if lyrical and melodic jazz taken at a swinging relaxed tempo is your bag, then these live dates are well worth the admission price. This slimline edition of the box set still enables a twenty page booklet which sheds valuable light on the original performances and at virtually seventy minutes for each CD makes for terrific value for money. Above all else, however, the music remains timeless and is near definitive of the West Coast sound that could be hot and cold as and when required. By 1960 Shelly Manne had opened his own club, the aptly named Shelly Manne’s Hole and this would remain in existence for some fifteen years and host the very best in jazz talent of that era.