In the early '50s, reed man Bud Shank and Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida made a series of records that foreshadowed the bossa nova craze of the next decade. Recently, Shank and Almeida resumed their collaboration, joining forces with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne as the L.A. Four.
The Four, with drummer Jeff Hamilton in place of Manne, began a week at Blues Alley Sunday evening. The first set began with Almeida playing perfunctory solo versions of J.S. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and a David Raksin movie theme. He was joined by Brown, who shone on George Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now."
Enter Hamilton, a tastefully propulsive drummer who kicked "How Insensitive" along nicely, but not before Brown had bowed a gorgeous rendition of the melody in the cello range of his bass. Shank then appeared, playing alto sax on an up-tempo "Just Friends" with bass and drums backing.
From there, the foursome delved into Django Reinhardt's "Nuages," a J. S. Bach prelude, Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" and Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." Shank's flute on "Manteca" and "St. Thomas" was remarkable, by far his best playing of the set.
Nonetheless, it was Brown - one of the foremost jazz bassists and, like Shank, a busy Hollywood studio musician - who was the center of interest.