Bud Shank
Barefoot Adventure






Barefoot Adventure by saxophonist and flutist Bud Shank aka Clifford Everett Shank, Jr. (1926–2009) is the soundtrack to one of the earliest documentaries about the – back then up-and-coming – movement of surfers, their colorful boards, cool manners and aesthetic viewpoints. This 1960 documentary is filmed by Bruce Brown and is one of only a handful of truthful endeavors without the mockery and tongue-in-cheek narrations which pester today’s films, although the original reel did go awry which led Brown to re-record and revise his text 30 years later, but this is only a sidenote.


The soundtrack is released in 1961 on Shank’s house label Pacific Jazz Records and features eight unique tracks he recorded with a sextet: bassist Gary Peacock, drummer Shelly Manne, guitarist Dennis Budimir, trumpeter Carmell Jones, tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper as well as Bob Shank on the alto and baritone brethren. Surf Fans could be happy about the things to come, the cool bass spirals and other incredible movements. Except that the soundtrack severely fails to live up to a surfer’s expectation! Of all the things that could possibly go wrong or are problematic in terms of the endemic style, it is, I have to stress, the surfer who will be bewildered and turned off by the elitist structures found in this soundtrack. Rooted in Cool Jazz, spawning complex segues and demanding texture dependencies, Bud Shank and his men target the skillful Jazz listener. So Surf fans are going to have a hard time. And Exotica aficionados? Are they able to distill exotic traits after all? I am going to tell you below.


Barefoot Adventure launches with the eponymous composition. Not surprising at all, given that this is the title track for the documentary. Stylistically though, the arrangement is full of unexpected twists and turns, not all of them embraceable by the true-bred Surf fan. Take, for instance, the downwards spiraling kick-off tone sequence on Bud Shank’s alto saxophone and Carmell Jones’ deliberately off-key trumpet accompaniment: this opening section is clearly rooted in Jazz rather than Surf Rock and even traverses through the whole composition which also sports the archetypical bass billows played by Gary Peacock. This is the sound of a dedicated Jazz combo. However, two particular additions do inject that Surf feeling after all: the brazen-aqueous duality of Shelly Manne’s beach-infested drums plus clinging cymbals and plinking triangles on the one hand, and Dennis Budimir’s adjacent guitar twangs which are awash with sunlight and rounded off by blue skies on the other hand. With an infinitesimal Yiddish timbre, Barefoot Adventure remains a feast for classic Jazz fans nonetheless.


The follow-up Shoeless Beach Meeting is much more efficient in emanating that freedom at the beach via majestically glowing brass layers. Even though this is a downbeat critter, the over-the-top effulgence, which sees tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper join the fun, is surficious and sports memorable melodies, although the remaining movements harken back to that Jazz sextet formula.


Side A continues with the auspiciously titled Jungle Cruise, and even though bongos, congas and birdcalls are amiss, this fast-paced parallax diorama with simultaneous formations and eclectic counterparts is delightfully uplifting. Running for almost five minutes, the Bud Shank Sextet ventures from a cymbal- and hi-hat-driven horn cohesion over mountainous vistas to bass hammocks in tandem with Dennis Budimir’s iridescent guitar helixes until the combo reaches a tumular endpoint that is resemblant to the arrangement’s point of origin. The swinging tempo, the textural concomitance as well as the interplay of interstitial sustain-related micro phases and shimmering surfaces make this the top pick of the album, adamantly jazzy, but skillfully green-tinged.


How High The Makaha closes side A in an even more friendly-frantic breakneck speed with a short shrapnel of brass bursts, Bud Shank’s bustling interpretations and Surf drums par excellence. Gary Peacock’s bass runlets bubble effervescently next to Shelly Manne’s electrifying drum-and-cymbal cocktail. This track has the greatest sense of adventure and merges the speed of Batucada with the labyrinthine pattern amalgamations off the world of Jazz.


Side B comprises another bunch of four tracks. Its opener Well, ’Pon My Soul is another synergetic effort of the band, intertwining the swinging Sunday feeling of a faithful Gospel tonality with crunchy and eminently luminous guitar globs. The easygoing groove augments the accessibility from the outside, with its lacunar nucleus comprising comparably slow yet sophisticated solo segues and interdependency sections from all involved musicians. A belated kudos goes out to the higher pitch of Peacock’s double bass which adds both loftiness and aquatic scents to the scenery. Ala Moana is undoubtedly the most exotic tune of Barefoot Adventure due to the enmeshment of two Exotica ingredients: prominent bongo blebs which were amiss heretofore, and that sunset-colored atmosphere of carefreeness and positive languidness, the latter of which contrasts with the upper midtempo groove and the bubbling drums, but is further amplified by a superbly soothing guitar backdrop which ennobles the solemnity of this piece further. A very great tune and another top pick, propitiating both Exotica and Surf fans with Bob Shank’s jazzier endeavor.


Whereas Bruce Is Loose pushes the dirtier side of the saxes to the forefront, emends it with euphonious jingle-worth brass eruptions and injects far away moments of short-term lamentos to the composition, the pompous Dance Of The Sea Monsters unites the technicolor Batucada chaparral of How High The Makaha with stupefyingly enchanting coppices of electric piano-resembling (!) guitar scintillae and ever-coruscating cymbal washes. Bud Shank shows once more that he is able to transform various genres and can indeed tailor his unique sheet music to the Exotica crowd. A magnificent closer of an eclectic album.


Barefoot Adventure suffers from being belittled as “music for a documentary,” and even though it can stand on its own feet by working perfectly fine without Bruce Brown’s ode to the back then brand-new trend of surfing, it is these very surroundings that poignantly depict the actual problem of Bud Shank’s vision. While the saxophonist foreshadows the Ska movement with its brass-heavy concoctions, he fails in pinpointing the aural core of the surf movement and Surf as an up-and-coming music genre most of the time. Barefoot Adventure is stuck in classical Jazz impositions and ways of composing. Only one track features bongos, the guitar presents designedly eclectic arabesques, and the double bass waves do not display that sense of freedom when the surfer is out and about… or aboard. All of this being said, Barefoot Adventure does not fail as a soundtrack per se, it just undermines the core values of the Surf Rock genre which was in its infancy stages anyway. It still shines, one simply should not interpret what the soundtrack wants to be rather than what it actually is: a Jazz album with Exotica sprinkles here and there, starting with vivacious titles such as Jungle Cruise and the Korla Pandit-inspired (?) Dance Of The Sea Monsters, and then transforming them into free-form arrangements.


Mixtures such as said serpentine Jungle Cruise and the bongo-backed dreaminess of Ala Moana with its beautifully warm guitar chords are undoubtedly exotic, all the while the Gospel-oriented Well, ’Pon My Soul is a setback concerning Exotica-related needs. As usual, I neither want to expel nor unnecessarily narrow down the listenership of this album, but fans of particularly jazzy music – no matter how heterogenous this group truly is – and veterans of polyhedric-spheroidal texture formations will get the most out of this album. In an outright funny blowback, Surf Rock fans should avoid the soundtrack to one of the earliest documentaries of the surfer scene. What an odd conclusion. 


Exotica Review 342: Bud Shank – Barefoot Adventure (1961). Originally published on May 17, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.