When you think of saxophone summits, the tenor is usually what comes to mindfor example, Dexter Gordon with Gene Ammons, or more recently, David Liebman with Ellery Eskelin. Far rarer is the pairing of two alto players, but the teaming of septuagenarians Bud Shank and Phil Woods on Bouncing with Bud & Phil
feels like a perfect match. Both have long histories in the bebop arena, with Shank leaning more to West Coast cool as opposed to Woods' more heated, "New York edge" playing.
Still, while their styles are clearly distinguishable, the recordingwhich also features pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Bob Magnusson, and long-time Woods collaborator Bill Goodwin on drumsplaces Shank in the left side of the mix and Woods on the right, so it's easy to assess their similarities and differences. Each player possesses his own markersShank a more relaxed, behind-the-beat player than Woods, who leans towards bolder assertionbut Doug Ramsey's fine liner notes make the valid point that both prove that the dividing line between East and West Coast jazz is largely artifice. Shank and Woods may have their distinguishing characteristics, but on this set of largely standards with a couple of originals, they ultimately share far more than they differ, with an unequivocal meeting point in Charlie Parker.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the up-tempo swing of Bud Powell's "Bouncing with Bud. While Bouncing with Bud & Phil is more structurally defined than Shank's exploratory duets with Bill Mays at this year's Ottawa International Jazz Festival, it's clear he's having just as much fun. His laconic phrasing never seems to waste a note, while his burly sound gives his playing an edge that is in direct contrast to Woods' smoother tone. And while Woods has often been disposed to a more energetic style of playing that remains steadfastly true to his bebop roots, he demonstrates a remarkably vulnerable side on Benny Carter's tender "Summer Serenade, a feature for him alone. Shank also gets the chance to highlight his own innate lyricism on his solo feature, the equally poignant "Nature Boy.
Wofford, Magnusson, and Goodwin create a strong and dependable backdrop for Shank and Woodsas comfortable with the more contemporary leanings of George Cables' mid-tempo "Helen's Song as they are the Latin leanings of Shank's "Carousels. Bill Mays' jazz waltz "Gemma's Eyes is an understated highlight of the set; with Shank and Woods elegantly twisting their way around the theme, building solos that support the importance of getting to the essence of a song and respecting its core before ending with in tandem soloing that demonstrates their mutual openness to musical suggestion.
Bouncing with Bud & Phil shows that two players can come from the same roots, develop their own distinct variations, and yet come together on common ground to demonstrate how even the most diverse approaches can be inextricably linked.
Visit Bud Shank and Phil Woods on the web.
Personnel: Bud Shank (alto saxophone); Phil Woods (alto saxophone); Mike Wofford (piano); Bob Magnusson (bass); Bill Goodwin (drums)