Jazz CD Reviews

Woody Shaw – Woody Plays Woody – HighNote Records

Peak Woody Shaw, live in San Francisco.

Published on July 16, 2012

Woody Shaw – Woody Plays Woody – HighNote Records

Woody Shaw – Woody Plays Woody – HighNote Records HCD7243 – 67:07 – 1977/1981, recorded live at the Keystone Korner ****:

(Woody Shaw, trumpet and Flugelhorn; Carter Jefferson, soprano sax (track #3 only); Steve Turre, trombone (tracks #2, 5, 6); Larry Willis, piano (tracks #1-5);  Mulgrew Miller, piano (track #6 only); Stafford James, bass; Victor Lewis, drums)

2012 has been an important year for fans of the late master trumpeter, Woody Shaw. First off, Columbia Records has issued a box set of his Columbia Records issues, formerly available only on a long out of print Mosaic Records release. Now HighNote Records has put out a CD with six extended length live recordings from Todd Barkan’s Keystone Korner, an intimate long-shuttered San Francisco jazz club. Primarily recorded in 1977 (OPEC was from a 1981 engagement), we have the opportunity to hear Woody in a live setting, showing his mercurial skills backed by superb musicians, who largely have gone on to careers leading bands themselves- especially Steve Turre, Larry Willis, and Mulgrew Miller.

Shaw wrote all the compositions and his son, Woody Shaw III, produced the CD. Four of the six tracks were dedications to significant people in Woody’s life. What stands out in listening to this CD approximately 35 years after these songs were recorded is the vibrancy of Shaw’s imagination, and his intensity in playing his horn. There is a restlessness and pent up power that is palpable listening to these extended live performances, each exceeding ten minutes in length. Woody would pass away tragically in 1989, having lost his vision and suffering through a subway train accident. Hearing Woody play his own work backed by top notch musicians in front of an appreciative audience is revelatory.

The opening track, “Little Red’s Fantasy,” was written for his wife Maxine Gregg, who was also his executive producer and manager at that time. The opening section is melodic and later morphs into a more modal “open” expression. Woody is on Flugelhorn, backed by a super rhythm section of Larry Willis, Stafford James, and Victor Lewis. Shaw’s inviting, warm tone on the flugelhorn is very pleasing, and you can sense the pent up passion developing as the track progresses.

“Rahsaan’s Run,” written as a tribute to Roland Kirk, the blind multi- reedist who Woody so much admired. Like Shaw, Kirk was a unique musician, who could play with sublime beauty, before marching to the beat of his own inner drummer, playing several reed instruments at the same time mixing cacophony and blues like no one else. This 24 bar minor blues lets Woody blast off chorus after chorus of blistering runs. Back in the 70s, only Freddie Hubbard could match Woody for sheer power and brashness. Steve Turre joins in on this track and shows that even back then, he was a force to be reckoned with.

“Stepping Stone” shows the complete talents of Woody on display. His dexterity and complete command of the trumpet’s jazz capabilities are highlighted. Carter Jefferson is featured and his soprano sax skills bring to mind John Coltrane as he stretches the straight horn to its full range. Woody and Carter take off like rockets and their rapport must have been incredible to the audience in the confined quarters of the Keystone Korner.

“Organ Grinder,” written in honor of organist Larry Young, follows. Young took the Hammond organ to places that few other Hammond players ventured, including African and Oriental motifs. Woody’s son points out Young’s use of the pentatonic scale as significant to Woody.

“OPEC” has influences from Eric Dolphy. It takes off immediately and hardly lets go for eleven minutes. It’s the blowing of a man possessed. Closing out our one hour plus “live” visit with Shaw is “Ginseng People,” dedicated to one of Woody’s most influential mentors as a band leader: Art Blakey. In the liner notes, Woody is quoted as saying that Art was his idol, and he received his “college degree from Art Blakey’s University of Jazz and Life.” Mulgrew Miller, another Blakey alumnus, backs Woody, as does still another prior Jazz Messenger, Steve Turre. “Ginseng People” is another barn burner and it is propelled by the great drummer, Victor Lewis.

For fans of Woody, this is a must purchase! There is not nearly enough live recordings of Woody Shaw as a band leader…

Woody Shaw’s son, Woody Shaw III’s, scholarly liner notes were a great assistance in writing this review. I agree with his interpretation of his father’s compositions on Woody Plays Woody, especially with Woody’s intensity and restless creative spirit.

TrackList: Little Red’s Fantasy, Rahsaan’s Run, Stepping Stone, Organ Grinder, OPEC, Ginseng People

—Jeff Krow




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