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Bob Lark / Phil Woods Quintet: In Her Eyes (2006)

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Bob Lark / Phil Woods Quintet: In Her Eyes How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

In Her Eyes is the second trumpet-led album released by Jazzed Media on which the name Carl Saunders doesn't appear above the marquee. Graham Carter, the CEO at JM, is careful to choose trumpeters who won't suffer by comparison. The first was Marvin Stamm; this time it's Bob Lark, whose melodic trumpet and flugelhorn sing as beautifully as his name.

Lark, best known to this writer as the longtime director of the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble in Chicago, has chosen his partners carefully, too. He's backed by no less than the Phil Woods Quartet, with Woods on alto sax, Jim McNeely at the keyboard, Steve Gilmore on bass and Bill Goodwin at the drum kit. None of these gentlemen needs an introduction to Jazz fans anywhere, and Woods, now in his 74th year, is playing as marvelously as ever, as one hears immediately on the snappy opener, "It's You or No One, and every track thereafter.

Besides playing a persuasive horn, Lark shows he's a talented writer as well. Six of the well-drawn charts are his, with two others ("Q's Delight, "Bouquet Chorale ) by Woods and one ("Charlie's Wig ) by Charlie Parker, which, we're told, is the first tune by Bird ever recorded by Woods (and we'd love to hear more about how that happened). While each of Lark's themes is charming, I was especially drawn to "Roatan, a sunny West Indian swinger reminiscent of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas. Bird's breezy riff is pure bop with Woods paying his debt to the master and Lark countering with a Red Rodney/Conte Candoli-like statement on muted trumpet. McNeely, who is comfortable in any context from swing to avant-garde, adds an apposite solo of his own, as does Gilmore, before everyone trades half-choruses and eights with Goodwin.

The rest of the album offers more of the same, as Woods blows hot or cool, as the occasion demands, while Lark keeps pace on trumpet or flugelhorn. The sound is slightly weighted toward the rhythm section, but not enough to cause any distress. There's no problem hearing either Lark or Woods. That's good, as each of them is in superior form. I'd say that Woods keeps getting better with age save for the fact that he has been playing this well for about the last half-century, give or take a few years.

Woods' readiness to share top billing is an affirmation of his self-confidence and generosity, as the album could surely elicit more notice were it titled "The Phil Woods Quartet Featuring Bob Lark. But after hearing it, one should harbor no doubts that Lark deserves his share of the limelight. It's a co-op effort on which he, Woods and the rhythm section perform as equals. It's not easy to shine in such company, but Lark is unfazed by the challenge and presses his seasoned companions note for note.

This is one Lark whose song you must hear.

Visit Bob Lark on the web.

Track Listing: Its You or No One; Abruzzi; Ravenswood; Mad Dans; In Her Eyes; Roatan; Charlies Wig; Qs Delight; Bouquet Chorale; As a Lark (64:08).

Personnel: Bob Lark: trumpet (1,3,4,7,8,10), flugelhorn (2,5,6,9); Phil Woods: alto saxophone; Jim McNeely: piano; Steve Gilmore: bass; Bill Goodwin: drums.

Record Label: Jazzed Media

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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