Two masters of the alto saxophone - together at last...
Peter Marsh 2005
While the two tenor frontline is a regular feature in jazz, it's rarer to find a brace of altos in the same position. And it's rarer still to find two acknowledged masters of the horn sharing a stage. Though Bud Shank and Phil Woods have played together informally through the years, it was only recently that the two septuagenerians hooked up for some 'proper' gigs, including four nights at San Francisco jazz club Yoshi's. This recording comes from that residency.
As Shank admits in the sleevenotes, the pair are both 'Bird's children'. Certainly Parker's influence is paramount, but there's a whole lot of other stuff going on with these two, as anyone who's followed their careers will tell you. Shank was equally influenced by Art Pepper, while Woods fell (albeit briefly) under the spell of the avant-garde. Both have had time to develop distinctive, personal voices and vocabularies.
Backed by a hastily assembled but empatheticrhythm section, the Woods and Shank partnership is less of a cutting contest than a mutual appreciation society.As they launch into"Bouncing With Bud" (that's Powell, not Shank by the way) it's clear that the pair are having a ball.Shank'sslightly nasal tone has an Ornette-ish quality,and his solo is elastic, angular and bluesy, full of odd twists and turns. In contrast, Woods takes a more conventional approach and soundsa little swamped by the rhythm section, who are a little ragged at times.
The ballads and medium tempo tunes seem to bring out more cohesive group performances. George Cables' "Helen's Song" is a beauty; Shank's solo worries away at pianist Mike Wofford's chords then veers off into sweetly introspectivepassages.And while "Nature Boy" is one tune I thought I'd pay money to never hear again, Shanks' opening statement of the melody might be the one to change my mind.
The set ends back in familiar territory with a storm through ye olde bop classic "Minority", which sports great moments from all concerned. Hope I'll be having that much fun when I'm seventy....