Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pete Fountain and Friends - Capital Records

Pete Fountain and Friends

1981 Capital Records SN-16224 Stereo

Side One
1. When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)
2. Love Walked In
3. Just Friends
4. Shine
5. Maria Elena

Side Two
1. Honeysuckle Rose
2. Scatter-Brain
3. Rain
4. The One I Love Belongs To
5. Somebody Else
6. Oh, Lady Be Good!

Liner Notes:

Arranged and Produced by Frank Flynn Recording Engineer and Co-Producer: Phil A. Yeend
Recorded at Conway Recorders, Hollywood, CA

Pete Fountain - Clarinet
Frank Flynn - Amplified Marimba
Jack Sperling - Drums
Bob Bain - Guitar
Ray Leatherwood - Bass

On the surface, "Pete Fountain and Friends" sounds like such a simple cliche. But what it reveals provides insight into the very fabric of jazz: the camaraderie, the excitement and the artistic gratification that only like-minded swingers can generate.

The fact that these cats are friends does not necessarily mean they grew up with each other, entered adolescence and matured together like, say, the Austin High gang in Chicago, or more recently, the Crusaders, in Houston.

But the ones on this session have shared many a chorus together. They've exchanged eights and anecdotes, they've gigged and recorded and swung together. They know each other's musical philosophies; they understand where the other is coming from, they can anticipate each other's harmonic detours and rhythmic idiosyncrasies with a form of ESP peculiar to jazz musicians.

All that is evident in a collection of chestnuts that were mostly first takes. Based on Frank Flynn's "head" arrangements, there was mutual agreement regarding the number and order of solos. After that it was pure instinct, and - pure friendship.

Highlights of that friendship: Frank has worked with Pete for 20 years, ever since the clarinetist left Lawrence Welk's band. As Frank told me, "I couldn't count the number of albums Pete and I cut together." Jack Sperling and Ray Leatherwood have played with Pete in New Orleans, and whenever Fountain heads west, he seeks out the same rhythm men. And that includes Bob Bain who spends so much time in west coast studios he's forgotten what smog looks like. Bob is no stranger to Pete, having done charts for Fountain's "Tonight Show" appearances.

Now for some highlights of the music, which is dominated by the warm, fluid sound of Pete Fountain. As Bob Bain attests, "He has never sounded better. He's relaxed, laid back, but he swings." At the very outset, appropriately, Pete's friends lay down an inviting rhythmic cushion for him on "When You're Smiling." When Pete responds and includes a playful "rat-tat-tat" phrase in the first chorus, Sperling echoes the figure. The intro you hear by Frank's electric marimba that sounds like a hint of "Elmer's Tune" leads deceptively into "Marie Elena." Notice how Pete softens the volume in the second chorus to an intimate level. But note also that even though the energy level is diminished, the forward motion of the swing is not.

Talk about forward motion, check out "Shine:" that last chorus is a prime example of Pete "goosing" his buddies, and the results are exciting. In terms of humor, you'll suddenly hear "Mairzy Doats" materializing out of Pete's first chorus of "Lady Be Good."

But the coup de grace can be heard in "Honeysuckle Rose." Following some terse dialogue between Leatherwood and Sperling, marimba, clarinet, guitar and bass each contribute eight bars (one complete chorus) in a cumulative exercise in counterpoint. Each line was completely ad libbed; only the pecking order was pre-planned.

The only way such overlapping of ideas could work is if there's equal portions of friendship and expertise. That tandem is obvious in every track of "Pete Fountain and Friends."

- Harvey Siders

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