The general cliché about west coast jazz was that everyone sounded like Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan doing their ‘cool’ thing, and certainly folks on the left coast tended to play with a more relaxed feel, but the west coast was also very open to new ideas (Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry were far more welcome in LA than NYC) as well as influences from around the world, particularly Asia and Latin America. Its within this air of openess that we get this great jam featuring Tommy Peltier’s Jazz Corps and their special guest, the always brilliant Roland T. Kirk ( apparently not yet named Rahsaan at this point).
Peltier and his Corps were an ongoing local staple at the famous Lighthouse jams in Hermosa Beach CA. Often Tommy and his group would open for various headliners such as Cannonball Adderly and Yusef Lateef, which would give the Corps an opportunity to rub shoulders with the greats. I would imagine this is how they were able to secure a recording date with Kirk on board. The resultant album, “The Jazz Corps featuring Roland Kirk” would have been a solid recording even without Kirk, but having Roland on board helps raise things a notch or two. Not only does Roland bring his spectacular solo skills to the mix, but having an extra multi-horn man on board gives the Corps six pieces, including a three horn front line, which helps the band create fresh tone colors to make each tune unique. This is most apparent on the modern ballad, “Serenity”, where two flutes combine with a muted trumpet for a sound all their own.
The lengthy modal improvisations from India known as ragas had a strong influence on west coast jazz in the 60s as many an artist took up a beatnik flavored take on the raga sound with long jams that used one scale or mode, rather than chord changes, for soloists to work with. This modal approach to jamming runs all through “The Jazz Corps” , with an influx of Latin rhythms on many tunes adding even more of a west coast style international mix. Add to all that, this mini big-band ensemble’s use of interesting tone colors and their ability to weave more than one melodic line at once with improvised arrangements and you have a very imaginative record that holds up well to repeat listens.
As mentioned earlier, many of the tunes on here have a relaxed approach, but towards the end of side two the band’s expressed interest in the music of Ornette and Don Cherry kicks in and they move outside during a high energy ride called “Meanwhile”. This cut features Kirk’s most intense solo on the album, a furious assault on the stritch, a sax/clarinet hybrid from the early days of jazz. Overall this is a great album, very unique and featuring a sort of intricate sensitivity and creativity that will soon disappear from jazz for a while, bludgeoned by the heavy-handed conformity of the fusion fad.