Even though Phil Woods jokes at every opportunity that, "Emphysema is nature's way of telling you that you're playing too fast, the alto saxophonist still brings a special touch to any recording date, as he remains one of the most inventive improvisers on his instrument with a sound that is always recognizable within a few seconds. Woods is also no stranger to playing in small groups with a second altoist, having recorded a number of sessions with Gene Quill and Lee Konitz, taking part in various alto summit recordings with several fellow players and appearing on Bud Shank's Bouncing with Bud & Phil
During a 2005 trip to Europe by the NEA Jazz Master, fellow alto saxophonist Benjamin Koppel invited Woods to join him for this recording, with drummer Alex Riel's top-notch group (bassist Mads Vinding and pianist Heine Hansen) fueling the two reedmen. Though decades younger than his special guest, Koppel is inspired by his presence.
The leader contributes seven originals for the session, most of which feature Woods soloing ahead of Koppel. Highlights include the laconic ballad "Mother's Song, the playful blues "36-14 (A Bop Result) with a punchy Woods solo, along with the strutting mid-tempo title track, which is introduced by the altos in unison and showcasing inventive solos by Woods, Hansen and Koppel. The lush, reflective ballad "Before the Concert initially suggests a moment of quiet meditation alone in the dressing room, though the lively solos exchanged are more like animated conversation and shared laughs by a group prior to going on stage.
Woods chose two standards that have been a part of his repertoire for decades. The two altoists open "How High the Moon by themselves, trading off complementary exchanges in a setting that simmers slowly to a boil. Woods is afire in "Autumn Leaves, demonstrating that the onetime "Fundance Kid still has plenty to say now that he's the "Old Man. Koppel clearly benefited from bringing Woods on board and is a promising young talent who should go far.
Personnel: Benjamin Koppel, Phil Woods: alto saxophone; Heine Hansen: piano; Mads Vinding: bass; Alex Riel: drums.