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Bud Shank's Barefoot Adventure: A Lost Classic Rediscovered by Impex Records

01-25-2024 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 131

Clifford Everett "Bud" Shank (1926-2009) was an American sax player and flautist regularly mentioned as being one of the preeminent exponents of the subgenre commonly known as West Coast jazz. Call it West Coast jazz, or even Cool jazz, if you will; it's freely associated with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Bob Cooper, Shelly Manne, André Previn, Dave Brubeck, and Paul Desmond. And of course, Bud Shank, who alone recorded 80-plus albums as a leader over the course of half a century; he played on nearly as many sessions as a sideman. Despite Bud Shank having a tremendous presence in the history of classic and even modern jazz, I've never owned, nor could I even name a single album by him. Not one.

Notwithstanding my ignorance of Bud Shank's extensive catalog of recorded works—and even of the man himself—unbeknownst to me, he was inexorably entwined in a melody that formed a cornerstone of the soundtrack of my life. From the first time I heard the song "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & the Papas as a seven-year-old in 1965, the haunting alto flute solo that occupies the song's center has serenaded so many moments of my life—whether the radio was playing or not. From long, lonely walks on cold, blustery winter days—dreaming all the while of sunny, Southern California—to moments of simple solitude, that flute melody was always a great comfort to me. A simple melody that conjured an image of a life beyond, and helped an often contemplative young man think outside the strictures of a humdrum life in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.  

That flute melody was, of course, played by none other than Bud Shank, and it was only one of literally a hundred guest spots by Shank from sessions that spanned multiple musical genres. But in the space of less than 35 seconds—and in the middle of a pop song, no less—he provided a fairly concise introduction to the softer side of West Coast jazz. That 35 second flute solo has been cited as Bud Shank's most recognizable work; it's a really great song, but Shank's flute solo elevates it to an entirely different level of the ether.

Impex Records brings attention to Bud Shank's legacy with this new release of his 1961 album, Barefoot Adventure (Pacific Jazz); it's the soundtrack from Bruce Brown's surf-centric documentary film of the same name. Remastered from the original analog tapes with new lacquers cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, the 180 gram LPs were pressed at RTI using high definition vinyl. The heavy outer jacket and LP labels employ a reverse tip-on process, which accurately and faithfully reproduces a very close facsimile of the original. The album jacket arrived encased in Impex's resealable, crystal clear vinyl outer sleeve, and the LP is inserted into a poly inner sleeve that protects it from dust accumulation and scratches. Both of those attentive touches are emblematic of Impex's approach to the art of reissuing perfectionist LPs; you can order a copy of Barefoot Adventure directly from Impex Records and their partner Elusive Disc HERE.


Bud Shank, Barefoot Adventure. 180 gram Impex Records LP, $39.99 MSRP

Filmmaker Bruce Brown was best known for his documentaries that surveyed the lifestyles of the surfers he first became enamored with in the mid-Fifties while stationed in the Navy at Honolulu, Hawaii. His 1964 film, The Endless Summer, became a cult classic, but three years prior to its release, he had completed the film Barefoot Adventure, and enlisted Bud Shank to compose the film's soundtrack music. Bruce Brown wrote the liner notes for the album, and he details the process of meeting with Bud Shank to discuss his ideas for the film: "Bud and I ran through the entire film; once, twice, three times, and again…and again. The film kept Bud's eyes busy, I kept his ears busy with continuous information. All the while he was making notes that would eventually become the basis for the music itself. … Bud asked questions like…"what exactly did you have in mind in the way of music?" My answer was: "Well…exciting, but not too exciting, slightly happy…yet sad and ominous." Bud took a few more notes as I peeked over his shoulder. He wrote: "dirty, churchy, medium funky blues/semi wig out." I didn't want to appear illiterate but I sure hoped we meant the same thing.

Bud Shank enlisted a sextet of mostly stable mates at Pacific Jazz for the recording, which according to Brown's liner notes was done in a five-hour period in a single night in November, 1961. The complement of players featured Shank on alto and baritone saxes, Bob Cooper on tenor sax, Carmell Jones on trumpet, Dennis Budimir on guitar, Gary Peacock on bass, and Shelly Manne (on loan from Contemporary Records) behind the drum kit. Bruce Brown continued about the recording session: I sat nervously in the Pacific Jazz recording studios as Richard Bock, the brains behind the operation, set up the microphones. The musicians assembled and prepared to play. I looked up at the acoustic tile ceiling and, without really expecting an answer, muttered "Do you know what dirty, churchy, medium funky blues means?" As the tape was threaded into the machine, I hoped against hope that it meant the same thing as "exciting, but not too exciting, slightly happy…yet sad and ominous." As the group began to play a smile crept across my face that stayed the entire five hours of recording. 

Brown sums up his liner notes by offering some sage advice: Put the record on the machine, sit back; and get ready to be as surprised and satisfied as I was.


Listening Results

Click on my name in the header, and you can see the equipment I used to evaluate Barefoot Adventure. My analog setup has recently changed, and now incorporates an excellent PS Audio Stellar phono preamp that has available inputs for two turntables, which greatly facilitates my playback of classic stereo as well as mono LPs. I've gotten the moving coil cartridge custom settings fine tuned, and along with the ease of use, I'm also enjoying a significant uptick in sound quality. I played Barefoot Adventure on my ProJect Classic EVO turntable that's fitted with an Ortofon Quintet Bronze MC cartridge. That signal was fed to my PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier, which in turn powered the KLH Model Five loudspeakers. It's a system with a very vintage vibe that produces a seriously modern high-end sound aesthetic. 

RTI's 180 gram LP was perfectly flat and centered, and had beautifully glossy surfaces; there was no noise of any kind evident during playback—I mean zero. The sound quality of this album is totally beyond reproach—the incredible quiet as the stylus traced the grooves produced a background that was blacker than black, allowing me to hear very deeply into the music. Which literally jumped from the record through the KLH Model Fives, where Bud Shank and his players were painted across the soundstage with uncanny realism. This record defines the audiophile experience; from the first note, there's no doubt that you're listening to an all-analog, AAA remastering. Barefoot Adventure brims with exceptionally well-recorded, entertainingly great music that pulls you into the experience: you're literally right there amid the horns of Shank and Coop, while Shelly Manne pounds out a thrilling backbeat!

Side one sets the tone for the entire album, opening with the title track, "Barefoot Adventure," where the three horns emerge from a completely silent background to introduce the drivingly propulsive main theme. Which is…exciting, but not too exciting…and a little sad and ominous—then Shelly Manne styles a superb drum intro as the theme progresses into thrilling solos from Coop's tenor, Carmell Jones' trumpet, then Shank on baritone. "Shoeless Beach Meeting" has almost religious overtones, like an old-time gospel meeting—I guess that's the "churchy" part. "Jungle Cruise" is a funky blues that allows plenty of space for all the soloists to stretch out, with a really nice turn from guitarist Dennis Budimir—and with a really ominous ending. Side one reaches its conclusion with "How High the Makaha," which features frequent staccato bursts from the three horns, with a nice alto solo from Shank that's followed by an equally exciting tenor turn from Bob Cooper.

"Well, 'Pon My Soul" opens side two with another gospel-tinged blues; the horns repeat the main theme throughout, and guitar and horns solo sequentially. "Ala Moana" references the famous Hawaiian beach and its laid-back vibe; Bud Shank offers a very Paul Desmond-ish turn on alto sax. "Bruce is Loose" leads with some nice interplay between the horns, with Shank offering another killer front-and-center baritone solo. The album concludes on a thrilling note with "Dance of the Sea Monsters," where the horns wail demonically in unison. You can literally envision surfers daringly cutting across the monstrous Hawaiian pipes and waves!

You Don't Want to Miss this Superb Reissue!

Yeah, I know—big build-up for Cool, West Coast jazz—then Bud Shank and his men totally bring the funk! Guilty as charged, but Cool jazz isn't exclusively relegated to the confines of smoothly effective flute solos that anchor moody pop songs. This album makes me want to take a much deeper dive into West Coast jazz, especially the music of Bud Shank, which I obviously need to hear more of! In the guise of the excellence incarnate presented by this Impex Records release, diving into the deep end is even more of a temptation!

Albums recorded in the Sixties often tend to sound as though they're from the Sixties. Not so here; Kevin Gray's excellent transfer imbues this record with the kind of clarity and immediacy that makes one think Bud Shank and his men could have stepped into the studio yesterday and laid down these excellent sides. This LP has been out of print domestically for 58 years; no original copy you could scrounge from any distant corner of the universe will ever sound as very good as this new Impex reissue. I give Bud Shank's Barefoot Adventure my highest recommendation!

Impex Records


Elusive Disc


All photos courtesy of Impex Records, Elusive Disc, and the author.