Phil Woods is not exactly what one would want to call a gent lacking in credentials—studio, street, performance, or otherwise—a highly regarded sax player who continues to influence ongoing generations. This is his latest, a big-band effort with the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, a 10-spot of original compositions expanding into very generous borders allowing for long expositions of Woods' acumen and the DePaul aggregate's tight letter perfect backing, a 71-minute affair featuring many solos from a number of well-honed players.
Should you be interested in lineage, Ira Gitler, a writer in the Leonard Feather tradition, provides the liner notes and recalls his words for Woods' 1955 Woodlore release, the saxist's sophomore gem. Do the math there, and you realize he's still writing about a guy who has been at the top of his game for almost 60 years, here as fresh and inventive as in those bygone years…well more so, actually, and one need wait no longer than the first cut, Brazilian Affair - Preludio to discover this, where Phil's as spotlessly clean in the melodic lines as he is abstract and labyrinthine in one particularly vivid end solo.
The arrangements to all cuts are by myriad hands, including Woods' own, resulting in a potpourri of flavors. Jim McNeely tended the second track and obtained an Artie Shaw-ish mood while Nothing but Soul has more of a Don Sebesky by way of David Matthews and Henry Mancini touch, slow, rich, and stately, Joe Clark providing the artfully directed nuances. Before I Left, on the other hand, is a bouncy boppin' blowout, stuffed with killer licks, a swift tempo, and nary a moment to catch one's breath, my favorite cut.
Or try Flowers, with its serial minimally-based rondo intro prefacing a balladically xylophonic tune where Woods injects an iced-out sax mellifluity centering the entire composition. No matter where you go on Solitude, you're in for seriously cool big band music carrying on the tradition in no small fashion, a drop-dead righteous illustration of how the best musicians are, as Gitler puts it, 'able to perform at a high level into their later years'…or better yet, let Phil echo himself from the hard-to-find Rights of Swing (Musical Heritage 912681K): "I still intend to play strongly and with, let us say, gonads". Nat Hentoff, a master jazz crit, caught that from him, and Woods has maintained his pledge right up to the moment. Solitude isn't as intense and convoluted as that 1961 recording frequently tended to be, that was a different time, but, every inch as vital, this latest treasure chest embodies an atmosphere of august statesmanship you're not likely to find again any time soon.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles