Everyone’s in good form on these two sessions from the mid-’50s. The earlier 1954 set, though, is the more interesting. It teams Modern Jazz Quartet alumni Kenny Clarke, Milt Jackson, and Percy Heath with West Coast beboppers Frank Morgan, Walter Benton, and Gerald Wiggins. Jackson‘s spirited solos and strong presence in the ensembles make clear he is enjoying a change of pace from the austere formalism of the MJQ. Altoist Frank Morgan, too, comes to play, tempering tart Parker-isms with sounds that Jackie McLean, a Morgan contemporary, was also exploring at this time. Section partner Walter Benton counters with a rich, sonorous Websterian fog, rounding out a horn section that has range, depth, ideas, and chops. Wiggins, a commanding, understated presence, is in a role that would probably have gone to Wynton Kelly or Red Garland if the casting had not been for a West Coaster. Between them, Wiggins, Morgan, and Benton further undermine the artificial and meaningless dichotomy of West Coast cool versus New York City heat.
The four tracks from the later 1955 date feature a familiar Savoy grouping of Count Basie band members: Frank Wess, Henry Coker, Charlie Fowlkes, and Eddie Jones, with Jackson, and Clarke. In the company of the Count‘s men, Clarke and Jackson create a successful hybrid of bop and Basie-style swing. Frank Wess‘ tenor and flute playing, both on form, is most at home with the Jackson and Clarke direction. Bassist Jones and Clarke are an effective study in contrasts, with Jones walks his bass unperturbedly as Clarke throws curves and change-ups to his cohorts. Telefunken Blues is recommended for the set with Morgan, Benton, and Wiggins, although the session with the Count‘s men does offer several pleasures, notably, the work of the rhythm section, Wess‘ flute, and Ernie Wilkins‘ arrangements.