Monday, July 04, 2016

Woody Shaw - The Tour: Volume One (HighNote, 2016)

The great trumpeter and composer Woody Shaw apprenticed while quite young with the likes of Eric Dolphy and Art Blakey. This imbued in him the twin ideal of exploration and tradition, which guided his all too short career. This album comes from an unknown date and location on the 1976 tour of the band that Shaw co-led with the drummer Louis Hayes which included Junior Cook on tenor saxophone, Ronnie Mathews on piano and Stafford James on bass. It is a splendid performance from a band that crackles with energy in both the ensemble passages and some extraordinary solos that are woven through the performance. The album opens with what is perhaps Shaw’s most famous composition, “The Moontrane,” originally recorded for organist Larry Young’s classic album Unity. The memorable theme comes cascading out of the band immediately led by Shaw and the under-appreciated Cook, before allowing the rhythm section to make its presence felt with a rapid and classy trio section. Shaw’s trumpet bursts forth for a solo, buoyed by powerful bass playing, and his crisp and beautifully articulated playing is a reminder of how potent he was. The horns come together to trade phrases with Hayes and then launch him on an exciting and deeply rhythmic solo of his own. “Obsequious” shows with full band blasting off, and then propelling Cook out for a fast and confident saxophone solo. The piano, bass and drums unit boils mercilessly underneath him and Cook makes the most of it, spinning out a grand feature. Shaw them steps up and glides beautifully over the rhythm, and his ability to think and respond at such speed is very impressive. The performances on this album are all lengthy, but they never turn into boasts, everyone is playing for the team, which makes the music so special. The piano trio slows the breakneck tempo a bit with Matthews adding colorful swathes to the music. He leads the rhythm team back to the boiling point, before the horns re-enter and conclude the performance. There is a really nice rhythm from Hayes and Matthews to open “Book’s Samba” and they use it to develop a buoyant up-tempo presentation with swelling horns and propulsive bass. Shaw solos first, carefully considering his alternatives, jabbing and feinting like a prizefighter, as the rhythm section supplies the jaunty feel. He passes the baton to Cook who begins to sculpt his own personal statement from the materials at hand. He them spools out bright ribbons of saxophone with a powerful and confident tone. Cook should have been a star, since he was a treasured sideman for many great leaders, but the chips just did not fall his way and he only recorded a few albums as a leader. “Ichi-Ban” is another steaming performance, with strong ripples of piano underpinning the brass, particularly a molten solo from Shaw aided with thick elastic bass that adds propulsion and generous support. Shaw is extraordinary here, playing with perfect enunciation and amazing speed, as his partner Hayes ramps up the beat. There’s a fine section for wailing saxophone, bass and drums playing a wide-open and exciting improvisation together. “Sun Bath” slows the series of hot tempos down to a simmer, with Shaw blowing the majestic theme, supported by Matthews excellent comping. Shaw’s solo builds over an interesting rhythm, he moves gracefully from point to point, never overplaying his hand. Strong drums and bass usher in the finale, “Invocation” with potent horns pushing theme along. Shaw’s solo is burning at a blue flame, fast and cool, while framed by pulsating bass and dexterous drumming. After a long and very impressive solo, the baton is passed to Matthews for a nimble-fingered piano solo. A section where the members of the group trade off short solos, especially Hayes who is prominently featured, follows this. Woody Shaw was going places when this was recorded, soon after he would become the straw boss of Dexter Gondon’s band then sign with Columbia for a series of well received albums including the career defining Rosewood. The only knock on this album is that the sound quality is a little muddy, but the performances are so extraordinary that it makes that point moot this is glorious. The Tour - Volume One -

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