Independent Journal of Creative Improvised Music
(Oct 2012): pp 68-69.
Woody Shaw's neo hard- bop albums for Columbia [Records] in the late 1970s were highly regarded and paved the way for Wynton Marsalis and his young lion cohorts' hard bop revival. But Shaw also had a sense of adventure. Early on he recorded with Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. As late as the mid-1970s he recorded an album with Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton in the lineup. He even played on Pharaoh Sanders' Deaf Dumb Blind album. The strength of Shaw's later albums derives from his experiences with these players. Because of these experiences, his brand of hard bop never felt stale or like a retread. Woody Plays Woody is a curious reissue/compilation. It consists of six lengthy (all over ten minutes) live tracks that were composed by Shaw. They were all previously issued on a series of 4 CDs called Woody Live, released by High Note between 2000 and 2005. The original recordings were done between 1977 and 1981.
These were prime years for Shaw and his groups were at their best live. And it's nice to showcase compositions by Shaw. Several of those featured here should be much better known and played. "Stepping Stone" is a particularly fast and feisty line that opens up a lot of possibilities. But what's a bit disappointing is that all of this material has been made available before. And the original Woody Live recordings are not that difficult to find. All of that said, there are several things to recommend about this compilation. The music here is superb and his groups (particularly the one with Carter Jefferson on soprano sax) sound as if they're on fire. The choice of compositions is a good cross section, from the carefree jaunt of "Organ Grinder" to the maze of "Stepping Stone." Also there are illuminating liner notes by Shaw's son. So, if you have all of the original recordings, you don't need this. But if you're looking for a good summation of Woody Shaw at the peak of his powers, check this one out. But let's hope there's more archival material waiting to be issued (especially from his earlier years as a leader around the time of Blackstone Legacy.)