Lost Classic: "The Curtis Counce Group, Vol 1 - Landslide"

Curtis Counce • The Curtis Counce Group, Vol 1 - Landslide • 1957 • Contemporary Records S7526
Recorded October 8 & 15, 1956 in Los Angeles, CA

The Selection:

The Players:

Curtis Counce - Bass
Jack Sheldon - Trumpet
Harold Land - Tenor Sax
Carl Perkins - Bass
Frank Butler - Drums

The Tracks:

A1. Landslide
A2. Time After Time
A3. Sonar
B1. Mia
B2. Sarah
B3. A Fifith For Frank

The Record:

Original 1957 Cover & Label (Photos From Discogs).

After making a name for himself in the early 1950s on the West Coast jazz scene, Curtis Counce put together The Curtis Counce Group in 1956 and promptly recorded three albums for the Contemporary label, two of which - The Curtis Counce Group and You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce! - were released in 1957, while a third - Carl's Blues - was recorded in 1957 and released in 1960. The Curtis Counce Group, Vol 1 - Landslide is a straight reissue of the first release, with a cover image that appears to be a mirror image of the original. It's not clear why they chose to reissue the album under a different title or exactly when this version came out, judging only from the green and gold label it would date to sometime in the mid-1960s.

With all the necessary discographical nonsense behind us, let's focus on why we should even care. It's the music, man! Landslide is firmly rooted in the hard bop style, and as such is highly recommended for anyone who loves modern straight ahead jazz with a soulful and bluesy edge. Just check out Sonar [listen above], with it's upbeat theme set down by all the players before Harold Land enters with a fantastic soul-filled solo. Following him is Carl Perkins on the keys, with a sound that would seem to be very much influenced by the likes of Horace Silver and Sonny Clark, two other pioneers of the hard bop sound. Jack Sheldon jumps in to the fray afterwards with a muted trumpet solo reflecting his roots on the West Coast cool jazz scene, after which Counce enters with a bass solo that is lightly accentuated by the piano and drums. Finally, Frank Butler does his thing tastefully on a short drum solo, before the group joins back in to reiterate the theme and close out the tune. It is the perfect composition to show off exactly what this group has to offer the listener who takes the time to seek them out. 

Harold Land on the tenor is a master of this early hard bop style, no doubt partly due to the year he spent playing with the mighty Max Roach/Clifford Brown Quintet. His playing on Landslide is excellent, and should stand as a reminder to any lovers of jazz from this period to check out his great discography. I've always been a big fan of the man due to his work with Bobby Hutcherson in the late '60s and early '70s (San Francisco is one of my all-time favorite later Blue Note records) and I challenge anyone to find fault with his releases on Contemporary and Jazzland, as well as his recordings with Carmell Jones on Pacific Jazz. Yah, I dig the dude's playing. A lot. 

Now as for the man on the trumpet, Jack Sheldon, I will admit I was completely ignorant of the man's accomplished career before I did some digging around on the internet. This guy was a pretty ridiculous talent. First off, he was a in-demand session player on the West Coast, notably appearing on a couple of early Jimmy Giuffre albums and Art Pepper's Smack Up. He acted in his own television sitcom "Run, Buddy, Run" in the mid-1960s, and was seen nightly on the immensely popular Merv Griffin Show playing the trumpet, singing and acting as Merv's sidekick and comedic foil. Perhaps most importantly for folks such as myself born in the early 1970s, Sheldon was the voice of two short, but memorable, Saturday morning cartoons: Schoolhouse Rock's "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just A Bill." For some reason that make Sheldon one really cool cat in my book.

One true revelation on Landslide is the playing of (the somewhat unfortunately named) Carl Perkins, whose piano vamps on the record are excellent. Sadly, he died from a drug overdose in 1958, leaving only one album, Introducing Carl Perkins, with him as leader on Dootoo from 1956. I feel he would have made quite a name for himself on the burgeoning hard bop scene had he not died so tragically young. Luckily, we have his playing on both Landslide and it's follow-up You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce! before he left this world behind. 

Curtis Counce (Date Unknown). Photo © William Claxton

As for the leader of the group, Counce's bass playing is solid, but there is no doubt his strength lied in his abilities as a band leader. According to the liner notes, not only was Landslide recorded less than a month after Counce organized this new group, but the first take of every track was used. If this isn't a testament to the leadership skills of Counce in the studio, I don't know what is. The few biographies of Counce on the internet also make note of the fact that he was one of the few black musicians welcomed into the Hollywood studios during the 1950s. This would be another indication of not only his talent, but also his popularity among his fellow musicians. For the most part, Counce has been relegated as a obscure figure in the annals of jazz, mostly due to the fact that he died young - of a heart attack in 1963 - preventing him from having a larger discography for listeners to discover his music. In any case, he left behind the three albums by The Curtis Counce Group (and a fourth of alternate takes released in 1989) that have more than stood the test of time. 

The Vinyl:

With the later green and gold label, my copy dates from the late 1960s or early 1970s, the relatively light weight of the vinyl would also suggest it is from this period. Although an original pressing would be nice, this one sounds great with all the solos shining through brilliantly. 

It has the usual confusing numbers stamped into the vinyl trail-off: "LKS 229 D1" and "LKS 230 D1" on Side 1 and Side 2 respectively. The "LKS" is for the label founder and producer Lester Koenig, but Contemporary was notorious for not putting catalog numbers in the trail-off, instead opting for numbers that are most likely related to the matrix numbers for the recording. 

As I noted, the cover for Landslide appears to be a mirror-image of the original The Curtis Counce Group release (note that Counce's watch is on the left in the original and on the right in the reissued release). I suppose we should offer up some kudos for the lazy, but somewhat unique, re-working of the cover art that didn't require any significant effort. 

I will be keeping an eye out for an original pressing, although those appear to pretty darn rare. I am extremely happy with this copy for only $14, and knowing what I know now about the music contained within I would gladly pay twice that for a pressing of this vintage. Curtis Counce may have left long ago, but it is a true testament to his music that he found a new fan nearly half a century later.