The 3 CD set Bopland is a true piece of modern jazz history, presenting for the first time all three hours of music from the July 5th, 1947 "Jazz concert-dance" at Los Angeles' Elk's Club on Central avenue. Legends in the making recorded that night include tenor saxophonists Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, alto man Sonny Criss, pianists Russ Freeman and a 19 year old Hampton Hawes and the recently departed guitar legend Barney Kessel. It is a real treat to hear them this early in their development and in a live setting.
This set is a rare document of pure bebop; while sides recorded in the studio were constrained by strict time limitations, this concert recording finds the players free to expand their ideas as long as they could keep the crowd engaged. In the hands of such capable players as these, that means a series of jams from thirteen to twenty-one plus minutes in length. There are any number of great solos here, starting with Tummy Young's great one on trombone to start "Bopera (aka Disorder At The Border)," to the legendary cutting sessions between Gray and Gordon on "The Hunt" and "Cherokee" (here called "Geronimo"), and including some of the hottest, Charlie Christian-esque playing I have ever heard from Kessel throughout the collection's three discs.
The only negative is the sound quality, though it's about as good as one can expect from a fifty year old recording that wasn't exactly state of the art at the time it was made. Though the best efforts appear to have been made in the remastering process, you can sometimes hear when one original acetate is being synced to another mid-song, and some tracks are poorly balanced; the Al Killian Orchestra's "Back Breaker" is an extreme example. You have to strain to hear the theme, but then Wardell Gray's solo comes in "just like ringing a bell," to borrow a phrase. Kessel's solo is somewhat inaudible, while Sonny Criss and trumpeter Killian's features alternate between the two extremes.
Still, what's the alternative? Not hearing this music, having no record of one of the most important bebop events in the history of West Coast Jazz? That's pretty unthinkable. Savoy Jazz has done us all a big favor by collecting all the music from the 7/5/47 Elk's Club concert (including 20 minutes heretofore unreleased) and restoring it as much as possible sonically. This is an essential recording for bebop and West Coast aficionados.