Mel Lewis (d), Ed Leddy, Jack Sheldon (tp), Charlie Mariano (as), Richie Kamuca, Jerry Coker, Bill Holman (ts), Pepper Adams (bs), Johnny Marabuto, Marty Paich (p), Dean Reilly, Buddy Clark (b), Lennie Niehaus, Bill Perkins (arr)
Reference: FSRCD 895
Bar code: 8427328608954
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Buffalo-born Mel “The Tailor” Lewis (1929-1990), one of the finest and most consistently exciting jazz drummers, first came to prominence during his 1954-56 tenure with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Lewis’s consummate taste, precision and unobtrusive warmth are clear from his first albums as leader, made on the West Coast in 1956 and 1957.
On “Got ‘Cha”, he fronts a septet which featured quality soloists in saxophonists Richie Kamuca, Jerry Coker and Pepper Adams—Mel’s buddy from the Kenton band—and used talented arrangers in Lennie Niehaus, Bill Perkins and, drawn from the septet, Coker, Adams and the group’s very capable pianist, Johnny Marabuto. The results are the epitome of relaxed swing and drive, and benefit from the firm hand of Kenton’s lead trumpet Ed Leddy, who solos with control and taste.
The second, “Sextet”, also features outstanding individualists in trumpeter Jack Sheldon, altoist Charlie Mariano and tenorist Bill Holman, with pianist Marty Paich and bassist Buddy Clark completing a sparkling rhythm section. With such a powerful lineup of solo talent, the music is timeless, fresh and stimulating. Voted New Star in the 1962 Down Beat International Critics Poll, he was also perfectly summed up by fellow drummer, Shelly Manne; “Mel’s main purpose is to move the group, he’s a real group player.” Mel Lewis is now best remembered for his big band work, particularly the famed Thad Jones-Mel Lewis orchestra, but as these small group sessions show,
he was a master regardless of context.
"Before becoming known for leading a world famous jazz orchestra with Thad Jones, drummer Mel Lewis had an impressive career with Stan Kenton and even lead a few groups of his own. This single disc has two very impressive small group recordings lead by the drummer from the mid 50s.
The Septet from 1956 includes the West Coast team of Ed Leddy /tp,Richie Kamuca-Jerry Coker/ts, Pepper Adams/bs, Johnny Marabuto/p and Dean Reilly/b and with some nifty arrangements by Lennie Niehaus along with the rest of the team. During this Oakland gig, the sax-rich team deliciously swings on “In A Mellotone” and “’Enry “iggins ‘Ead” with Kamuca’s Stan Getz-inspired sound working wonders throughout. Lewis is a master of taste here, and also on the 1957 Sextet session. Here, Hollywood studio studs Jack Sheldon/tp, Charlie Mariano/as, Bill Holman/ts, Marty Paich/p and Buddy Clark/b join with the snappy leader for a vintage West Coast Cool breeze on “You Took Advantage of Me” and a fun ride on the roller coaster at The Pike on ”Zig-Zag.” The music seamlessly swings, and anything with the underrecorded Mariano is essential, as his warm horn bops with delight. Gonna like this one!"
George W. Harris (August 8, 2016)