Don Stratton, Jimmy Nottingham (tp), Billy Byers, Urbie Green (tb), Phil Woods, George Dorsey (as), Bob Wilber (ts), Sonny Truitt, Hank Jones (p), Chuck Andrus, Wilbur Ware (b), Jim Chapin (d)
Reference: FSRCD 881
Bar code: 8427328608817
In the Fall of 1953, drummer Jim Chapin, a gifted technician, returned to New York after a period as a big band nomad to organize a small jazz group, which was soon booked into Birdland for a series of Monday nights that stretched into five years. The original group, as heard on the 1954 recording, included Don Stratton, trumpet; Sonny Truitt, trombone and piano; Chuck Andrus, bass; and Chapin, with altoist Phil Woods and trombonist Billy Byers in leading roles.
On record, the boldly adventurous Woods, who never seemed to have an off night on the gig, also delivered with a consistency just short of miraculous, and the imaginative, yet unpretentious arrangementsby Byers, Woods, and Truittwere performed with skill and conviction.
Vibrant and joyous, the equally persuasive 1955 octet sessions echoed the stomping ensemble spirit of singers and dancers in a jazz stage show. Urged on by the fine rhythm section of Chapin, Hank Jones and bassist Wilbur Ware. Woods fierce drive shared the alto spot with veteran swinger George Dorsey, along with Urbie Greens warm trombone, trumpeter Jimmy Nottingham and the delightful tenor of Bob Wilber, whose refreshingly melodic scores combined rhythmic intricacy and unpretentious effectiveness.
A name new to me and possibly to many readers, Jim Chapin was regarded highly as a drumming technician and educator, the author of at least two big-selling books, star of an instructional video and a regular at drum clinics. High-profile jazz gigs were not his style, and this album contains his only recordings as a group leader.
There’s quite a contrast between the sessions. The first perhaps owes something to the Shorty Rogers Giants, given credence by the fact Chapin had sat in with Rogers and colleagues at the Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach. Phil Woods is suitably boppish on Cherokee, but often recalls the sweeter tones of Art Pepper, with his own Jazz Crossroads and the eponymous tune by Sonny Truitt both evoking a decidely West Coast feel - incidentally, there cannot be many examples on record of Woods the arranger, more’s the pity on the evidence here.
If you were asked to guess who led the group, the drummer would be in the frame. By the next date, drums are everywhere. We are told Chapin got together with Bob Wilber, who did the actual arrangements, and what they came up with was a kind of mini-Buddy Rich effect. Not to put down the level of solos: Wilber stomps engagingly on every track and Urbie Green justifies his high reputation, though Jimmy Nottingham’s habit of bursting into solos at full blast seems more suited to a big band.
In short, worth checking out for scarcity value, with the assurance that the best bits are pretty good.
Ronald Atkins (February 2016)
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