Here’s the kind of retrospective that I’m simply a sucker for. Joe Castro (1927-2009) was a bebop pianist who made his name in the West Coast in the 50s and 60s. He was a fixture in bands, either playing with or producing/engineering records with Teddy Edwards, Buddy Collette and the like, and although he never got the worldwide fame of guys like Hampton Hawes, Lou Levy or Bud Powell, he had an impressive career as the sideman for June Christy and Anita O’Day. This 6 disc collection from private vaults (of which the copious liner notes explain) shows just what a hip guy he was, and what wonderful music we’ve been missing all of these years.
The six discs are divided into various bands. Disc One has him in company with Chico Hamilton/dr, Buddy Collette/woodwinds and Buddy Woodson-Bob Bertaux for three long jams from 1954. The three “Abstract” pieces have some rich mixes of classical, jazz and sophisticated bop that is both hip and subtle. Disc two from January of 1956 has him in the control room with Teddy Wilson/p and the warm and Lester Young influenced tenors of Zoot Sims and Stan Getz. Music doesn’t swing any more sublimely than here with gorgeous and relaxed bon mots such as “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Just You , Just Me” while “Falcon Blues” is one to savor for the ages. Disc Three from February of ’56 has Castro along with heavy hitters Lucky Thompson-Zoot Sims/ts, Oscar Pettiford/b, Sonny Truitt/tb and Ron Jefferson/dr. The band sounds ahead of its time with a film noirish read of Thompson’s “Tricotism” while the band breezes through a lithe “Lester Leaps In.” Truitt’s ‘bone is filled with marrow on “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” and the leader is as sharp as a shark suit jamming on “Just Joe.”
Vintage West Coast bop is felt with Leroy Vinnegar/b, Billy Higgins/dr and Teddy Edwards/ts on disc four’s swinging January 1959 session with Edward’s blowing smoke on a snapping “Billie’s Bounce, ” Castro striding right on “Walk On” and the whole band as crisp as Romaine lettuce on “Woody ‘n’ You.” Fast forward to 1966 and a richly textured big band with attitude including Al Porcino/tp, Conte COndoli/tp, Frank Rosolino/tb, Bob Cooper/ts and Stan Levey/dr and Teddy Edwards/ts. Castro shines on a hep cat “Fuky Blues” along with Edwards and Vinnegar while Cooper and Edwards go toe to to on “Hard to Find.” The band is sassy as all get out on “Subway Grate” and sensuous on Edwards’ classic “Sunset Eyes.” The last disc has Castro in the midst of Teddy Edwards’ tentet from a recording in March and May of 1966. The band is warm and relaxed on “Angel City” and creates sepia shadows like a Chandler novel on “The Midnight Creeper” while “Nairobi Chant” is an earthy delight.
If you’re a fan of toe-tapping mainstream, you’re going to be in for the surprise of a year. Don’t let this one slip through your lips. Guaranteed satisfaction or double your dotted quarter notes back.