LEROY VINNEGAR SEXTET: ‘Leroy Walks!’ (Contemporary Records/Craft Recordings)

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  • LEROY VINNEGAR SEXTET: ‘Leroy Walks!’ (Contemporary Records/Craft Recordings)

Though he was born in Indianapolis, Leroy Vinnegar established himself as an in-demand double bassist in Los Angeles from the mid-1950s onwards. Noted for his rich tone and ability to create cohesive bass lines, he is mostly remembered as a dependable sideman who brought a solid foundation to some of the bands led by west coast luminaries such as Shelly Manne, Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, and Chet Baker; but Vinnegar was supremely versatile, playing on TV and movie soundtracks and even guesting on rock records, like the time he contributed double bass to The Doors’ 1968 LP Waiting For The Sun LP and Van Morrison’s 1972 album, St. Dominic’s Preview

But what is often forgotten is that Vinnegar was an accomplished leader in his own right and cut several albums under his own name. His debut platter, Leroy Walks!, released by producer Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records label in 1958, is now revived by Craft Recordings as part of their audiophile-quality Acoustic Sounds Series. The all-analogue mastering by veteran audio guru Bernie Grundman is wonderfully clear and rich in detail, vividly bringing to life a recording that is 65 years old but which sounds as fresh and vibrant as if the music was taped yesterday. And best of all, perhaps, Vinnegar’s lithe and supple bass, with its deep and resonant bottom end, is prominent in the mix. 

Vinegar, who died in 1999 aged 71, surrounded himself with some fine musicians on this particular date; London-born vibraphonist Victor Feldman – who would become a west coast session legend and contribute to Steel Dan albums – trumpeter Gerald Wilson, who would later lead his own big band, along with tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, pianist Carl Perkins, and drummer Tony Bazley, who all make wonderfully tasteful musical contributions to the record. 

Six of the set’s seven cuts have the word “walk” in the title, alluding to Vinnegar’s renown for his walking-style bass lines, which he demonstrates from the off on the opening track, an original called ‘Walk On.’ It’s an infectious tune with a bluesy swagger and highlights the bassist’s measured walking style, which grounds the track’s sense of swing but also gives it a purposeful sense of forward motion. 

Another highlight is a tremendous version of Richard Carpenter’s ‘Walkin’,’ made famous by Miles Davis’ version, that is given a cool, west coast feel thanks mainly to the iridescent shimmers emanating from Feldman’s crystalline vibes. Elsewhere, Vinegar and his west coast gang explore the jazz standard repertoire, breathing new life into ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’ and ‘Walkin’ My Baby Back Home’ with their combination of deft solos and intuitive ensemble work.

Leroy Walks! isn’t an album that sought to push the jazz envelope to the Nth degree or break through the sound barrier with the aim of going boldly (sic) where no jazz musician had gone before. Indeed, the personnel Vinnigar brought to the session weren’t trailblazers in the mould of John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman but they were, nonetheless, all top, technically brilliant, players who knew how to play jazz well in an enjoyable and unpretentious way. And it’s those two commendable qualities that shine through on this gem of an album that is reissued as part of an ongoing series focusing on the Contemporary Records catalogue. A quality release that no genuine jazz fan should ignore. (You can order the album here: https://found.ee/CR-AcousticSoundsSeries-2023)

(CW) 4/5

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