Love Story/Piano & Pen
On this double CD, Love Story by the Dave Pell Octet is the dull next-door neighbor to pianist Dick Katz's swinging quartet on Piano & Pen. The Pell Octet, essentially a unit from within Les Brown's band, is the purveyor of pleasant, skillfully arranged and executed music. Its predecessors, like those of Brown's band, are the sweet bands of the swing era and the society bands from before that. Although reed player Pell and his bandmembers, including pianists André Previn and Claude Williamson, were mainstays of the West Coast jazz scene of the 1950s, jazz takes a back seat to the arrangements on this session from 1956. Solo space is brief, with the players hewing so closely to the melodies that solos sound written out. While the musicianship and arrangements (including four from Marty Paich) are very good, the general lack of substantive improvisation makes this set of limited interest to jazz fans. Redeeming things considerably, Piano & Pen is a cool, swinging set from 1959 that updates the sound of the Nat Cole Trio's instrumental sides. Katz, who first caught the public's attention working with clarinetist Tony Scott and who later worked with Stan Getz, Kenny Dorham, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, and others, is joined by superb bop guitarists Chuck Wayne and Jimmy Rainey on four tunes apiece. The guitarists share the lead with Katz, weaving complementary or contrapuntal lines around the pianist's uncluttered playing. The same approach extends to the rhythm section of bassist Joe Benjamin and drummer Connie Kay, who each operate with some independence from the other, but who also come together as a unit. Among the highlights are Wayne's hot, precise lines on "Scrapple from the Apple" and Rainey's clean and sustaining horn-like tone on the pieces where he is featured.