Cool Jazz

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Cool jazz arose slowly in the late 40s when many jazz musicians realised there was no point in following in the fast paced be-bop footsteps of Diz and Bird and began to try a more relaxed and quieter approach to playing. Early examples of cool jazz came from Miles Davis' Nonet and Lenny Tristano's group, while later practitioners like Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker showed up on the west coast where cool jazz was often referred to as west coast jazz.

Many cool jazz saxophonists looked to the pre-bop languid sax style of Lester Young for inspiration. Also, 3rd Stream influenced arrangements that featured Baroque style counterpoint became popular during the cool era. One lasting innovation of the cool genre is the idea of concert hall influenced 'chamber jazz' as pioneered by The Modern Jazz Quartet. For some critics, west coast jazz seemed like a souless sell-out compared to the more challenging and urban flavored be-bop of New York City. In 1952 Miles Davis was one of the first 'cool' band leaders to lead the way to a more aggressive next phase in jazz, hard bop.

Cool jazz began to fade before the arrival of fusion and never made a comeback afterwards. Today Cool Jazz is a retro style that defines a certain time and place in jazz history, but is still played by some.

cool jazz top albums

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MILES DAVIS Kind of Blue Album Cover Kind of Blue
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4.83 | 139 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK Time Out Album Cover Time Out
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BILL EVANS (PIANO) Explorations Album Cover Explorations
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DAVE BRUBECK Jazz Impressions of Japan Album Cover Jazz Impressions of Japan
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4.45 | 9 ratings
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DAVE BRUBECK Time Further Out Album Cover Time Further Out
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4.36 | 7 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Blue Moods (aka Charles Mingus Presents aka Miles Davis) Album Cover Blue Moods (aka Charles Mingus Presents aka Miles Davis)
MILES DAVIS
4.30 | 10 ratings
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AHMAD JAMAL The Ahmad Jamal Trio Album Cover The Ahmad Jamal Trio
AHMAD JAMAL
3.98 | 4 ratings
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cool jazz Music Reviews

DAVID LARSEN The Peplowski Project

Album · 2023 · Cool Jazz
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Carmel
Let's get into it. First off, we're talking about David Larsen's album "The Peplowski Project," a tribute to straight-ahead jazz and the Al Cohn/Zoot Sims quintet of the 1950s. Larsen is both an educator and a practitioner of jazz, adding academic and experiential dimensions to his music. The album boasts a mix of jazz standards, Cohn arrangements, and Larsen's original compositions, all of which are served with a sonic flavor that blends the old with the new. With that as a backdrop, let's dig into this album, shall we?

Now, listen up, swing lovers, because the rhythm section on this album is what we in the biz call "tight." Jake Svendsen on piano, Josh Skinner on bass, and Brendan McMurphy on drums are not just accompanying musicians here; they're an integral part of the project. Svendsen's piano work adds a sophisticated color palette, bringing nuanced flair to tunes like "Love Me or Leave Me." Meanwhile, Skinner's bass lines are a lesson in harmonic foundations. Check out his role in "Black Nightgown"; he starts off with just Peplowski, creating a duo that's delicate but articulate. McMurphy on drums gives the ensemble its pulse, its heartbeat if you will, contributing significantly to tracks like "He Who Getz the Last Laugh."

So, let's talk instrumentation. The combo of clarinet and different types of saxophones is somewhat of a rarity these days, making this a must-listen. On "All the Things You Are," for instance, Larsen's baritone sax kicks off the album with gravitas, while Ken Peplowski's clarinet responds with eloquence. This contrast in timbre showcases the versatility of reed instruments in a jazz setting, adding layers of complexity and texture.

And let's not overlook the album's tribute to the legendary Al Cohn. If Cohn was a novelist, Larsen has become a master of his literary style. Originals like "Into the Mild" and "Tenor for Dinner" pay homage without veering into imitation. They encapsulate the spirit of 1950s jazz—those harmonic choices, those groovy rhythms, but all with an exceptional touch.

"Black Nightgown" provides an excellent microcosm of the album's thematic elements. Set to a relaxed medium swing, the ensemble initially builds a light, airy environment that methodically crescendos to swing harder as it progresses. Larsen's baritone sax solo showcases his stylistic skill; his ideas dance out of his horn with clear articulation, harmonic spellings, and a big, round tone that commands attention. Then enters Peplowski with his clarinet solo, initially accompanied solely by Skinner on bass. It's a return to the light and delicate style of the beginning, an exercise in atmospheric contrast. Once McMurphy and Svendsen rejoin the space, there's an unmistakable lift in energy. And let me tell you, Peplowski responds in kind, adding dynamic layers to his clarinet playing that elevates the track to new heights.

To be clear, the dynamic unfolding in "Black Nightgown" is no one-time-wonder; it is a sonic blueprint for the entire album. Just like a well-structured syllabus, it gives you an idea of what's to come—ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys—all while keeping you engaged and, dare I say, emotionally invested.

Alright, let's kick it up a notch, my scholarly audiophiles! We've talked about some standout tracks already, but there's so much more to unpack in "The Peplowski Project." These additional compositions not only show off the ensemble's versatility but also the individual mastery of each musician involved. Let's groove through some examples, shall we?

Starting with "Jazz Line Blues," this Al Cohn composition runs for 4:12 and is a deliciously riff-based piece. Larsen comes in strong with a tenor solo that's as engaging as a charismatic lecturer on the first day of class. Peplowski follows suit, maneuvering his tenor through the iconic rhythm changes with fluid lines and a rhythm so tight it would make a metronome jealous.

"Love Me or Leave Me," originally by Walter Donaldson, begins with Svendsen's piano setting a shuffle swing tone that's as excellent and fluid as a well-argued thesis. Larsen's tenor and Peplowski's clarinet then dive in, fully embracing the rhythm laid down by the keys.

Now, don't overlook our man Brendan McMurphy on the skins. The drum work on tracks like "Tenor for Dinner" adds intricate polyrhythms, transforming what could've been a standard groove into an intellectual escapade of timing and feel. McMurphy, my friends, is a human swing machine with the soul of a poet.

Finally, let's talk about Larsen's own "Tenor for Dinner," a hard-bop journey that showcases the two saxophones interacting like two intellectuals debating a complex topic. Sometimes they harmonize; other times, they diverge in counterpoint. The improvised solos are the real cherry on top, followed by a trading of phrases that makes for a stimulating auditory experience as enthralling as a plot twist in a good novel. After that enthralling debate in "Tenor for Dinner," brace yourselves, because "Doodle Oodle" is the final exam where our jazz scholars prove they've done their homework and are ready to graduate summa cum laude.

In tracks like "Doodle Oodle," you see Larsen and Peplowski switch gears and turn up the tempo. The rapid pace isn't just for show; it serves as a sonic playground for these musicians to flex their technical prowess. And let me tell you, they execute it with both flair and precision, all the while maintaining the spirit of the '50s jazz language. This is what we call "pedagogy in practice," my friends.

All in all, "The Peplowski Project" is not just an album; it's a masterclass in straight-ahead jazz. It explores the rich textures of reed instruments, delves into complex harmonic landscapes, and swings hard, all while paying homage to jazz greats. It's not just for the Cats; it's for anyone keen on a complex yet accessible musical journey that'll leave you both satiated and hungry for more. It's a win-win, my fellow scholars!

MILES DAVIS Blue Moods (aka Charles Mingus Presents aka Miles Davis)

Album · 1955 · Cool Jazz
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as1978
The only release for Charles Mingus 'Debut "Blue Moods" is Miles Davis' second LP 12 "and was recorded on July 9, 1955 and released the same year. The style is Cool Jazz, which is a very relaxed and relaxing Jazz more pushed towards the listener than to demonstrate skills and complicated and, in some cases, incomprehensible solos, typical of other forms of Jazz. One of the things to note about "Blue Moods" is the fact that none of the musicians who join Miles Davis on this album are true Cool Jazz experts and, admittedly, this fact can hear it. In fact it is precisely this having to adapt to a genre that is not really that makes "Blue Moods" really explosive and that still makes it fresh and engaging today.

Musically "Blue Moods" consists of four tracks arranged by Teddy Charles (except "Alone Together" which is arranged by Charles Mingus, who also produces the album). As mentioned "Blue Moods" is made up of very relaxed compositions which are easy to listen to and which feature great work by the band and not by a soloist or group of soloists. I don't see it as a Miles Davis album but a band where Miles Davis is the head of operations.

"Blue Moods" is an album, therefore, also suitable for those who are not an expert in Jazz but are looking only for a relaxed and relaxing music and do not want the complexity of certain Jazz. And, because it is the truth, it would have in front of it an authentic masterpiece for how fresh and engaging it is still.

MUNDELL LOWE TV Action Jazz!

Album · 1959 · Cool Jazz
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js
Its hard to beat the sound of 50s jazz when it comes to classic black and white noir crime TV. So successful is the pairing that exotica collectors coined the term ‘crime jazz’ to describe the dark urban music that accompanies TV detectives and the hoods they stalk. Henry Mancini’s music for “Peter Gunn” is often given credit for inventing this genre, so it comes as no surprise that when Mundell Lowe put together his “TV Action Jazz!” LP, he included two tracks from Mancini’s popular soundtrack. “TV Action Jazz!” might seem like a totally kitsch album, and that element is there, but it also features some excellent jazz arranging and solos from top stars of the day like Herbie Mann and Donald Byrd.

The style on here is laid back hard bop and cool jazz, but this isn’t an entirely west coast band on here, more like a meeting of west and east coast cool schools. Lowe has an octet to work with and takes advantage of that set up to create creative arrangements and mini-big band tone colors. Mundell takes a majority of the solos, and his mix of bop and blues guitar riffs recall Joe Pass, only more laid back and with some interesting twists and turns here and there. Tony Scott has a beautiful tone on the clarinet which sounds great on the slinky opening melody to “Mike Hammer Riff Blues”. The young Donald Byrd does not get a lot of solo space, but when he does, he emulates the popular cool players of the era, namely Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Eddie Costas’ solos on piano and vibes carry that cool school tendency toward cleverness, humor and the non-cliché.

Although there are several well known songs on here, such as “Peter Gunn” and “Perry Mason Theme”, Lowe greatly improves these old warhorses with modern abstract arrangements that only hint at the originals. Sure, those that collect kitsch exotica are going to be attracted to this record, but it also contains all those things that made late 50s cool jazz so cool. it’s a win-win on both fronts.

CHICO HAMILTON The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet

Live album · 1960 · Cool Jazz
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js
The early part of the Chico Hamilton discography is a bit of a confusing mess to descramble with many tracks showing up on more than one album and many albums bearing the same title such as “The Chico Hamilton Quintet” or “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” etc. To clarify the situation, this “The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” album that is being reviewed here was part of a live concert recorded at Strollers back in 1955, but not released until 1960, probably to cash in on the rising popularity of the band. This concert shows Hamilton’s creative group in fine form as they combine a wide array of styles including west coast bebop, hard bop, classical chamber music and rhythms from Africa and South America. All of this music was presented with that distinctly 50s west coast style that came to be called ‘cool’. You really couldn’t call Chico’s quintet avant-garde, but they were one of the more experimental and unorthodox bands of the time, definitely beating out a path all their own.

The album opens with two well known standards, “Caravan” and “Tea for Two”, which the band gives signature creative arrangements. The version of “Caravan” shows the cross-relationship between west coast jazz and the lounge exotica scene of the time, no surprise as many exotica records were performed by west coast jazz musicians. Two up tempo numbers follow with “Fast Flute” living up to its name as Buddy Collete fires off a frantic flute solo while backed by Hamilton’s driving rhythm, which sounds rooted in the music of Africa or Brazil. On track six, “A Mood”, the band shows their specialty, a cleverly arranged melody with shifting time signatures and a surprise around every corner. Something for ‘deep listening’ that still has the snap of a catchy pop tune. “I’ll be Loving You” is their ballad offering and features Buddy’s flute playing melodic exchanges with Fred’s cello. Another up-tempo bop number closes out the set in energetic fashion and features a very musical drum solo from Hamilton, always a master of that peculiarly west coast ‘playing with brushes’ sound.

“The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet” is a good example of a young jazz group all excited about the new possibilities that are being offered to them as they learn from each other. If there is a drawback to this album, the sound quality of the recording is okay, but a little murky, especially the guitar. I’m going to guess that maybe this was not meant to be a released album until the record label saw how popular the band had become.

CHICO HAMILTON Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette (aka Spectacular! aka Blue Sands)

Live album · 1955 · Cool Jazz
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js
“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” is not the first Chico Hamilton album, but it’s the first to present his popular quintet and its west coast flavored ‘chamber jazz’ sound. In current times, the term chamber jazz has become vague and often misapplied to jazz that has more in common with art pop and new age music, but in the 1950s, chamber jazz actually meant jazz with a pronounced element of classical chamber music. In other words classical music written for small ensembles. This album is a sort of slap together type affair with supposedly half the tracks coming from one studio session, and the other half from a live date, but judging by the different production values of some of the tracks, I would guess there may be even more sources for these tunes. For the most part, the studio tracks reveal intricately arranged chamber works, while the live ones get into a mellow west coast hard bop swing.

“A Nice Day” opens up the album, and it sets the mood for the Hamilton chamber jazz sound as carefully arranged cello and clarinet lines sometimes give way to concise solos, but mostly its about the creative arrangements. This sound is featured on approximately four tracks, while most of the rest feature Hamilton and crew playing relaxed hard bop jams live at a club with very sparse arrangements and plenty of solo space for guitar and saxophone. If cellist Fred Katz appears on the live cuts, then he must be mixed very much in the background. Studio track, “Blue Sands” is a very interesting ‘exotic’ number that hints at Hamilton’s world fusion direction in the 60s, but the recording is very murky and sounds like it was recorded somewhere different from all the other tracks. Amongst the live tunes, “Free Form”, is an odd experiment, not really free jazz as such, but more like an improvised modern classical piece, it sort of works, but mostly seems almost out of place with the mellow west coast bop numbers.

“Chico Hamilton Quintet Featuring Buddy Collette” isn’t a bad album, and fans of Chico and 50s creative west coast jazz in general, may want to get this, but for somebody looking for their first Chico Hamilton record, this is not the one to get.

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