Whenever a jazz artist is packaged on an album as joining, meeting or leading a "sax section," I'm instantly hooked. In every case, the result is exciting, since no one in his right mind would be paired with a sax section unless the results and collective talent were sterling. Examples of this approach that come to mind include Al Cohn and the Sax Section (1956), Coleman Hawkins Meets the Saxophone Section (1958) and That's Right: Nat Adderley and the Big Sax Section (1960). Then, of course, there was Supersax, starting in 1972, playing dense-packed arrangements of Charlie Parker solos. I recently discovered another album in this category that, like the other sax summit efforts, is terrific: Bud Shank and the Sax Section (1968). [Black-and-white photos of Bud Shank above and below by William Claxton]
Using the phrase "the sax section" in an album title carries major connotations and responsibilities. The implications always are that the reeds separately and together are all muscle, that the tracks on the album are shrewdly chosen and that the arrangements are tight and adventurous to the ear. All are certainly the case with this Bud Shank album.
The West Coast band assembled for the Pacific Jazz date featured Bud Shank and Bill Perkins (alto saxes), Bob Hardaway and Bob Cooper (tenor saxes), Jack Nimitz and John Lowe (baritone and bass saxes), Dennis Budimir (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and Larry Bunker (drums). Bob Florence [pictured] handled the arrangements and conducted the band.
Bud Shank had a split musical personality during the 1960s. On the one hand he could tear your heart out with edgy playing on ballads and up-tempo pieces. But Bud also could lay back and surf melodies beautifully. He recorded this album in the middle of a highly commercial period for Pacific Jazz. At the time he was recording bossa nova albums (Brasil! Brasil! Brasil!) and LPs that tried to capitalize on the surging rock trend (A Spoonful of Jazz and Magical Mystery). Some were more successful than others and all had heart.
Tracks on The Sax Section include Summer Samba, On a Clear Day, the Sidewinder and And I Love Her. As you can see, the material was all over the lot hoping to appeal to everyone. And yet the album works, largely because of Bob Florence's arrangements and the shrewd doubling of the baritone and bass sax parts, which give the charts heft at the bottom. Florence also had the good sense to widen out the voicings and extend the counterpoint—making the section sound like a full band rather than one instrument. The overall sound remains wonderfully reedy and flighty. Interestingly, Jack Nimitz was the sole member of this sax section who wound up as a member of Supersax.
JazzWax tracks: Unfortunately Bud Shank and the Sax Section album isn't available on CD. Blue Note, which owns the Pacific Jazz catalog, should really consider re-issuing it. In fact, since we're on the subject, a box of Bud's 1960s World Pacific albums is in order. The album is available on eBay and Amazon from independent sellers as a vinyl LP.
A special JazzWax thanks David Langner and Wen Mew.