THE POLL WINNERS The Poll Winners (Analogue Productions)
A supergroup of sorts, the somewhat immodest title and cover photo of the trio (Barney Kessel, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne) cavorting with maypoles are explained by the fact “that all three won all three of the major American jazz popularity polls for 1956 – Down Beat, Metronome and Playboy”. After recovering from the quaint idea of Playboy holding jazz polls, it has to be said that this rather contrived concept isn’t at all bad musically, resulting in a programme of polite, dextrous guitar-led jazz. Their repertoire consists mostly of standards like “Satin Doll”, “It Could Happen To You”, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”, “Green Dolphin Street” and “You Go To My Head”, the playing exemplary – poll winning, in fact – but maybe less than revelatory. Kessel himself models the kind of naturalistic guitar tone that seems to have predominated in jazz in the pre-McLaughlin era, the album’s sole surprise perhaps being the closing track “Nagasaki”, which seems uncharacteristically upbeat given its title.
Indifferent content aside, Analogue Productions’ reissue of “The Poll Winners” is cherishable. Although the non-gatefold packaging lacks the lavish perceived value of their Impulse reissues, the music it contains could hardly sound better. Cut on two 45 rpm discs, its sonics are sumptuous, the thrum and rattle of Brown’s bass being particularly thrilling.