Jazz Review: Bob Cooper Plays "Tea for Two" and "The King"

June 8, 2018

Bob Cooper and Bud Shank were two important jazz saxophonists that are often ignored these days in the jazz world, but deserve some more recognition for the best album, which is called "Jazz at Cal-Tech: Bud Shank Quartet in Concert with Bob Cooper". 


This album has some of the most exciting jazz material ever recorded on the West Coast, and it shows what standard of music West Coast musicians were capable of recording. Unfortunately, the Jazz at Cal Tech concert also defined the limits of West Coast jazz, and Bud Shank and Bob Cooper never played as well as they did at Cal Tech. 


The first really impressive recording on the Jazz at Cal Tech album is "Tea for Two" with Bob Cooper, which is done as a medley with the ballad "How Long Has this Been Going On?" at the beginning. The first-class drumming on "Tea for Two" gets Cooper going from the start, and the concealed excitement that often is heard in West Coast jazz is soon not concealed on this tune. Although Cooper plays only a few really good phrases, the liveliness of the general group makes up for this downside. After Cooper solos, he trades with the drummer, Chuck Flores, and this part of the recording is particularly lively. They then return to the melody, but the group seems to be so lively that they struggle to stay with the melody and Bob Cooper continues to embellish until the rhythm section stops, Bob Cooper plays some phrases on his own, and the group closes the tune.


 The medley of "How Long Has this Been Going On?" and "Tea for Two", recorded at Cal Tech, described above; view the video on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0f1jyVg-lg



The last tune recorded at Cal Tech was the other, and second, very impressive tune recorded at Cal Tech. It's called "The King" and is nothing to write an essay about, but the improvisation and liveliness of the number is enough reason to write an essay about it. 




The King, recorded at Cal Tech, described below; view the video on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41sjnlhRMfA


Cooper and Bud Shank begin by playing the simple melody together and then Cooper takes off with improvisation. Every one of Cooper's phrases is not only working with the rhythm to create excitement, but is also unique and is original improvisation.


However, the alto saxophonist that was probably even more of a master of his instrument than Bob Cooper on the Cal Tech recordings was Bud Shank. Shank begins his solo on "The King" a little after the two-minute mark and he gives the recording a whole new dimension with his great technique and, in places, Parker-like phrasing. If you took his best phrases phrases out of the recording and played them to someone, that person would probably assume with little doubt that they were listening to Bird.


The pianist, Claude Williamson, then takes a fairly good solo before there is a bass solo. After the bass solo, Bob Cooper is the first one to trade with the drums, and then Bud Shank trades with the drums, and they continue to trade. This time, Shank is able to inspire Cooper and help him play some very good phrases that are outside Cooper's usual style. The drummer, when he trades, also sounds inspired.


After the trading, Cooper and Shank play the same phrase a couple of times with the drums, and this adds to the liveliness. Then, at the end, they finish the number and receive quite a lot of applause, and finally, at the very end, Shank takes another short solo with the rhythm section, before the audience applauds some more.




Full "Jazz at Cal Tech" album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6uA8GTA9K8




The musicians: Bud Shank (alto saxophone), Bob Cooper (tenor saxophone), Claude Williamson (piano), Don Prell (bass), and Chuck Flores (drums).


Musicians' names from the Full "Jazz at Cal Tech" album YouTube page.

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