Woody Shaw III's Liner Notes for "Woody Shaw: The Tour (Vol 2.)"
Get the New CD, Woody Shaw / Louis Hayes: The Tour (Vol. 2).
In this installment of what was originally billed as the “Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet featuring Woody Shaw,” we get a glimpse into the band’s effective treatment of the standard repertoire — with the full scope of what the group brought to the table in terms of stylistic nuance and its unique adaptation of the traditional jazz canon.
This set is a compilation of performances recorded in different European cities during The Tour, which took place between 1976 and 1977. Following Volume 1, it offers a welcome shift in the narrative arc and trajectory of the band’s development — as well as a kind of a portrait or snapshot into the historical development of jazz at this particular time.
Much is to be gleaned from the masterful treatment and sense of ownership over these compositions exhibited by Woody, Junior, Louis, Ronnie, and Stafford. The seasoned, almost seamless manner with which these pieces are covered speaks masterfully to a level of reverence and unrelenting commitment to tradition that belies all claims (by omission) of deceleration concerning jazz’s momentum during the 1970s. As Woody put it in an interview referencing this very group — “by no means is jazz dead.” Clearly, this CD proves him right.
The set begins with Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are. Woody Shaw takes the lead on the melody while Junior Cook ad-libs freely behind him in full fledged conversation that solidifies the authenticity of this cut - and the ongoing musical conversation shared between these men off the bandstand.
The one element that never fails to qualify the distinction with which Woody Shaw so boldly declares his presence on the first note of virtually every opening melody — is his tone! So much history can be heard in Woody Shaw’s tone even at this ripe age of 32 years old, still two to three years from what might be considered his prime emergence as the Woody Shaw of the late 70s and early 80s, that one could arguably teach a course on the entire history of jazz through his sound alone. No doubt, this was no accident.
Woody’s commitment to the sonic evolution of the trumpet was guided by an almost deep religiosity for the cultural history of the instrument that is as well-documented in text as it is audible on this recording. Upon first hearing his sound on the melody of All The Things You Are, one wonders if he wasn’t meditating deeply on the likes of Louis Armstrong just seconds before he stepped on the bandstand. Suffice it to say, the tradition is always present, and always felt.
The band is then heard covering Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night In Tunisia. Always an ode to Dizzy and Art Blakey, this piece evokes all that is integral to the essential feeling, mood, memory and nuance of what jazz is to the extent that any set covering standards without it would simply feel incomplete. The same can be said of the next composition, Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk. These two compositions, heard back to back, provide a beautiful time capsule in sequence through the bidirectional lens of these musicians’ masterful interpretation — simultaneously looking back to the forbearers of tradition while urging the progression of their culture forward, towards better hopes for the future. The love for history is as self-evident with every beat as is the vow to the music’s preservation so easily audible with every unfolding improvisational expression. Always in real time, it is, quite literally, history in the making. The future, ever growing more and more present. That is, “jazz” — the verb, not the noun. You dig.
The selection follows with John Coltrane’s Some Other Blues. This cut features Rene McLean on alto as the recording itself was made following Junior Cook’s departure from the group, which resulted from a little skirmish between Woody and Junior that won’t be delved into here. Rene was to become somewhat of an understudy of Woody’s in much the same way that Woody had played alongside Rene’s father, Jackie McLean, just ten years prior. The influence of Jackie on his son is easily apparent, and so too is Rene’s grasp of the idiosyncratic language once shared by Woody and Jackie when they played together. Louis Hayes brings to fore and to mind the regality of Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke with that reverberating bass-drum tone and accent that is so unmistakably his own.
Following up is perhaps one of the group’s most frequently performed compositions, Invitation by Bronislaw Kaper. The one striking distinction about this particular performance is that it covers the tune at break-neck tempo. There is a relentlessness to the swing that speaks to the temperament fueling this band’s mission and sense of purpose. An assertion and proclamation of jazz’s formidability and presence in spite of all that might suggest otherwise. Woody and Junior are heard playing their hearts out as if it wasn’t the one thousandth, but the very first time they ever played this tune together.
The CD concludes with Bob Haggart’s What’s New and features an elaborately constructed melodic masterpiece by Woody that closes with a cadenza exhibiting elements of the innovative intervalic language that he has long since become known for. The perfect closer. Carrying an entire tradition across each melodic line, illustrating for us not just where the music came from, or simply where it was, but precisely where it was headed.
The shared commitment that musicians have not only to the material, but to each other, is always one of the determining factors in the longevity any band's legacy. And in a wake of nearly 40 years from this particular band’s original inception, this group and these recordings remain as fresh and as relevant to what jazz truly is, as anything heard on the jazz scene then or now.