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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby


American Songbook II

Kind of Blue KOB 10022




1. Suddenly It's Spring
2. Careless
3. Last Night When We Were Young
4. I Remember You
5. I'll Take Romance
6. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
7. Yesterdays
8. Come Rain or Come Shine
9. Watch What Happens
10. Night and Day
Phil Woods - Saxophone
Bill Charlap – Piano
Brian Lynch - Trumpet
Steve Gilmore - Bass
Bill Goodwin - Drums

"Only connect". E. M. Forster’s famous dictum is relevant to many areas of the arts - not least music, where listeners build up their appreciation by making connections between various musical styles and different musicians. This seems particularly true in jazz, where the individual artist largely fashions the music. . We compare one performance with another, one artist with another, and make connections for ourselves - building up our own complex idea of what constitutes the music called "jazz".

These random (and probably totally irrelevant) thoughts were prompted by this new disc – and especially by one track: Watch What Happens. I first came to realise what a phenomenal musician Phil Woods is when I heard him playing this tune on a session led by the tune’s composer, Michel Legrand. It was on a 1973 LP called "Live at Jimmy’s" (sadly not available on CD) and comprising live performances of several Legrand compositions. Phil Woods really tore into the tunes, creating marvellously inventive solos – and it is one of the most exhilarating sessions I have ever heard. Of course, I had heard him before but this was a sort of Damascus road experience, opening my eyes to the wonder that is Phil Woods.

And that wonder persists in this new CD, recorded in January, when Phil was 75 but still playing beautifully. The idea of an album of tunes from the Great American Songbook may not arouse much excitement, especially as this is Phil’s second album of such material. Indeed, we have heard so much of that rather overdone Songbook in recent years that we may be getting blasé. Yet Phil’s quintet dispels staleness by choosing an interesting programme of familiar and lesser-known songs, arranging them imaginatively, and building some fascinating solos.

The arrangements – six by Phil Woods and four by Brian Lynch – have the same sort of subtle inventiveness as those that Charlie Shavers made for the John Kirby sextet: simple but effective. In fact the sleeve-note tells us that, when the quintet was considering how to interpret Careless, Phil said "I’m hearing Kirby". Phil’s solo on this track has the directness of one of his alto-sax heroes, Benny Carter, while Brian Lynch’s muted solo is smoothly melodious, and Bill Charlap plays with the simplicity of Count Basie. All three musicians contribute sterling work throughout the album, adding subtle touches like those occasional quotations that make a connection between one tune and another. Bill Charlap hints at Anything Goes in Suddenly It’s Spring, and in Yesterdays, Phil Woods quotes from the Beatles’ Yesterday, capped by Brian Lynch’s reference to Nature Boy!

These three are backed solidly by the long-term rhythm duo of Gilmore and Goodwin, who have been playing for Phil Woods since 1974. The togetherness of the five musicians ensures cohesion and communication. And Phil Woods’ playing is still wonderful. For instance, savour his performance of Last Night When We Were Young, an affecting ballad on which he is not afraid to employ vibrato to add to the emotion. Phil may often by classed as a disciple of Charlie Parker but, like Cannonball Adderley, he was never content to imitate his idols but trod his own path, with nods to Johnny Hodges as well as to Parker and others. Phil Woods and his quintet prove here that, however hackneyed it may have become, there’s life in the American Songbook yet.

Tony Augarde


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