woodyshaw

Jackie McLean ‘Demon Dance’

Don’t judge a book by its cover. The artwork on the jacket might give one the impression that the music within falls somewhere on the electric/funkified/psych-tinged end of the late 60s/early 70s jazz spectrum, but that is *NOT* what’s going on here. ‘Demon’s Dance’ is a terrific acoustic jazz record that sits right on the border of hard-bop and post-bop. On the one hand, it’s not as far out as some of McLean’s inside/outside records of the early 60s like ‘Destination…Out!’ or ‘One Step Beyond,’ which some may view as a step backward. On the other hand, I’d argue that this was progressive hard/post-bop of the highest caliber and very advanced, even if it was more accessible. The session is led by Jackie McLean’s alto sax, though the record could just as easily have been co-billed with young trumpet virtuoso Woody Shaw who has as many stellar, spotlight moments as McLean. Props also to the perpetual motion artistry of young Jack DeJohnette on drums, which blends swing and propulsion in equal measure without ever sounding show-off-y or heavy-handed. Scott Holt (bass) and LaMont Johnson (piano) complete the quintet. McLean and Shaw each contribute two compositions, and there are also two tunes written by trumpeter/composer Cal Massey. ‘Demon’s Dance’ was McLean’s 21st and final album for Blue Note after an incredible decade of releases. McLean would shift his focus to educational pursuits for the rest of the decade and then began a series of releases on Steeplechase in the early 1970s. I missed acknowledging Jackie McLean’s birthday yesterday and was reaching for ‘Consequence’ (Lee Morgan’s playing is just devastating on that LP) to spin and review, but as you can see from the album artwork, ‘Demon’s Dance’ does tend to draw the eye! This record has gotten ridiculously difficult to find on vinyl, but it is available on streaming services. ‘Demon’s Dance’ would make a great release

Woody Shaw ‘In My Own Sweet Way’

Woody Shaw is my favorite trumpet player, and I’m also blown away by his skills as an arranger, composer and bandleader. This was one of his final recordings, a live album recorded in Switzerland in February of 1987. Shaw leads a quartet featuring Fred Henke (piano), Neil Swainson (bass), and Alexander Deutsch (drums) through a program that’s leans heavily on ballads, though Shaw’s playing does get fiery, particularly on “Sippin’ at Bells”. Henke’s “The Dragon” also has killer solos, as does the bonus track on the CD/digital version of the record, which is the Shaw original “Joshua C.” The entire record is a showcase for Shaw’s tone, phrasing, and mastery of dynamics—as the sole horn player, a lot of the heavy lifting falls upon him and he delivers with style, fluidity, passion, and power at every opportunity. This is a record that doesn’t often get brought up in conversations about Shaw’s best work, and it should. There’s no shortage of live Woody Shaw records to choose from, and I’d list this as one of the top three. That said, I cannot recommend the vinyl edition which sounds rather thin. The CD/digital versions sound much more robust, and give you a better “you are THERE” vibe. Additionally, the CD/digital bonus track “Joshua C” really completes the set. This is an exquisite performance, and a must for Woody Shaw fans

Woody Shaw/Anthony Braxton ‘The Iron Men’

This love letter to the work of inside/outside pioneers Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson, and all the other “iron men” (as Shaw calls them) is a BURNER. Shaw is joined by Anthony Braxton, who pulls triple duty on alto & soprano sax, as well as clarinet. Shaw is a triple threat as well on trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn. Arthur Blythe adds alto sax on two tracks as well. They’ve got a knockout rhythm section that’s both fluid and powerful, with Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and drum duties split between Joe Chambers and Victor Lewis. Two sessions were recorded for Muse that comprise this record, one recorded on this day, 6 April, and another a week later on 13 April back in 1977. The material includes homages to Shaw’s earlier collaborations with Eric Dolphy, including the Dolphy original “Iron Man,” as well as Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” which Shaw had performed with Dolphy in the 60s. There’s a rousing, knotty romp through Andrew Hill’s “Symmetry,” which is my second-favorite track on the record, with McBee and Abrams engaging in a game of musical capture-the-flag that’s simply awe-inspiring. Top-of-the-heap, however, is Shaw’s second run at his own “Song of Songs,” originally on the LP of the same name recorded for Contemporary in 1972. The ’72 version sets a spiritual mood. This version is fiercer, tighter, and leaves no ass unkicked. There’s marvelous interplay, terrific solos, and overall it’s a team effort that’s bound to please. Throughout the record, Shaw paints with his entire palette, showcasing both dazzling technique, and a buttery, smooth, tone. As you’d expect with Anthony Braxton on board, some of the music has sharp elbows, but don’t let that intimidate you—this is wonderful music and an under-appreciated Shaw session. Originally released on Muse (MR 5160) in 1981, it’s part of Mosaic’s Complete Muse Recordings of Woody Shaw, which boasts significantly improved sound over the LP

Tyrone Washington ‘Natural Essence’

‘Natural Essence’ is tenor sax enigma Tyrone Washington’s “one and done” as a leader for Blue Note. Recorded 29 Dec 1967 with a formidable lineup of Woody Shaw-trumpet, James Spaulding-alto sax/flute, Kenny Barron-piano, Reggie Workman-bass & Joe Chambers-drums, this is one of those inside/outside records that grabs you on the first listen and then reveals itself even further with repeat spins. Washington’s approach nods to several contemporaries including Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, though he’s clearly got some Eric Dolphy in him as well. The compositions are all really interesting, requiring a band of this caliber to pull them off so well. Even during the quieter moments, there’s a perpetual restlessness afoot that makes you feel that this band is eager to explore all the potential tangents within the compositional framework. A disappointing fade out and what sound to my ears like one or two unnecessarily shortened solos make me wonder exactly how far out they could have taken some of these tunes! While there are sharp elbows from time to time, this isn’t an avant or “out” record at all. I’d classify it as modal/advanced hard bop, with the occasional left turn into skronkville but those moments don’t occur very often. The last track “Song of Peace” is probably the freest. It’s an environment that Joe Chambers thrives in, and those who’ve enjoyed his work on some of the in/out LPs by Bobby Hutcherson or Grachan Moncur will enjoy his work here a great deal. Washington only made a couple of records as a leader, though he also did notable sideman work on Horace Silver’s ‘The Jody Grind’. He recorded last in 1974 before dropping out of music and finding religion, never to record again. This LP is a bit of a rarity on vinyl but turns up more often than you’d expect, and it is widely available across the digital spectrum. Don’t miss it! While not a household name, it’s a terrific, unconventional title that deserves wider recognition

Woody Shaw ‘Blackstone Legacy’

Recording for this gem occurred during this week in 1970. Inevitable comparisons to @milesdavis ‘Bitches Brew’ continue, but they ring slightly hollow to my ears. BBrew was the Big Bang of jazz/rock fusion. ‘Blackstone Legacy’ is 100% jazz through and through. The record is amped with a healthy dose of electricity via George Cables on electric piano, and the presence of some bass clarinet courtesy of the amazing Bennie Maupin, which might trick you into thinking about BBrew, but this record doesn’t have any rock music DNA at all. Instead, immerse yourself in electrified post-bop, inside/outside modal journeys that are all fairly long, with enough free elements to be surprising, challenging and engaging. Shaw and Bartz are clearly having a lot of fun playing together, and Maupin picks up both tenor sax and flute to join in as well. Standup bass duties fall to the legendary Ron Carter, while electric bass is wielded by Clint Houston who would collaborate frequently with Shaw for years to come. Houston wrote the track “Sunshowers” on Shaw’s breakout ‘Rosewood’ LP (my fave jazz record EVER) which is one its most endearing tracks. Finally, future Return to Forever drummer Lenny White just kills it on skins, hitting them with a fast, firm punch without ever overplaying. All compositions are by either Shaw or Cables. This is a first pressing on Contemporary S7627/8, stereo. Wild stuff

Woody Shaw ‘Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard’

Dracarys!🔥Killer live set marked by energy, passion, precision and effortless swing in a charged club atmosphere. There’s a *LOT* going on here. Eschewing the commercial elements that dragged both jazz and fusion down in the 70s, Shaw’s band is fully engaged—no missed opportunities, wasted notes, grandstanding, going through the motions, or phoning it in. The quintet takes things from telepathic simmer to modal boil until the intensity gets so fierce it feels like things are about to go off the rails. This is one of *THE* live jazz records to own. The recording quality is jaw-droppingly marvelous—each instrument sits in the mix exactly where you’d picture it—crisp, clear and perfectly balanced. It has plenty of live ambience but enough polish to please even the most discerning audiophile. It’s also widely available across a variety of formats, including the highly recommended Complete Columbia Albums collection which adds an entire second disc of performances from the same August 5/6 1978 Village Vanguard shows that gave us this original LP, all in that same superb sound quality. I’m fond of this Japanese reissue from 1978 CBS/Sony 25AP 1175 which is a superb pressing. The band: Woody Shaw-cornet, Carter Jefferson-tenor/soprano sax, Onaje Allan Gumbs-piano, Clint Houston-bass, & Victor Lewis-Drums. I’m on the hunt for a Japanese pressing of Woody Shaw’s masterpiece ‘Rosewood’ (my favorite jazz record EVER) CBS/Sony 25AP 977…if anyone has a copy for sale/trade, please DM @woodyshawlegacy

Woody Shaw ‘Rosewood’

A moment of reflection for Woody Shaw who flew from this world 30 years ago today. Shaw was a brilliant musician with top shelf skills in many areas—an innovative and nearly flawless technique, perfect pitch, and a photographic memory for charts; in addition to widely admired skills as arranger, composer, improviser and band leader. All of these were put to the test on his major label debut ‘Rosewood’ and he passed with flying colors. There’s hard bop, freebop and modal journeys from a fantastic band, with notable work from Mighty Joe Henderson whose solo on the closing ballad “Maxine” alone is worth the price of admission. Sonically, this record is a beast—beautifully recorded. It’s also really easy to find, widely available across all digital platforms and readily available on vinyl for only a few bucks. While it received many accolades in its day—from Grammy Nominations to Album of the Year/Readers Poll awards in the music press—it feels under-acknowledged and often overlooked these days. Well if you’ve passed it over for some reason, do yourself a favor and give it a spin—it’s sure to please. Groove for groove, it’s probably my favorite jazz record @woodyshawlegacy