Danish alto saxophonist Benjamin Koppel has always been inspired by the bebop masters. When altoist Phil Woods was in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2005, Koppel invited the American legend to join him and the Alex Riel Trio in a recording session. Koppel supplied seven original bebop tunes, while Woods selected two standards, "How High The Moon" and "Autumn Leaves," for the session.
Woods just celebrated his 75th birthday. He could very well be the hardest working jazz musician in that age group, and he's certainly still providing the quality recordings that have been his trademark over the past fifty years. His background included studies with Lennie Tristano as well as at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard School from the late 1940s into the early 1950s, and his resume reads like a who's who of jazz, with names like Claude Thornhill, Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Thelonious Monk, Oliver Nelson and the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band.
The above references alone carry Woods through the 1960s. Since that time, he has co-founded bands with Clark Terry and his own European Rhythm Machine and established his own quartet/quintet, which has been playing and recording for over twenty years. Since winning a Grammy in 1977 for The Phil Woods Six Live At the Showboat, the altoist has provided a training ground for musicians like Tom Harrell, Brian Lynch and Bill Charlap, who have gone on to establish their own successful careers.
Pass The Bebop features Mads Vinding, one of the most respected Danish bassists, who has been recording since the mid-1970s. The core trio's leader, Alex Riel, is also a recognized leader as far as jazz drumming is concerned; the Danish musician's history dates back to a mid-'60s recording session with Kenny Drew. He played on Dexter Gordon sessions in Copenhagen during the mid 1970s, including Swiss Nights (three volumes) and Lullaby For A Monster for Steeplechase Records, as well as Jackie McLean's albums for the same label in the early to mid-'70s, such as Live in Monmartre and The Meeting with Dexter Gordon.
The pairing of Phil Woods with another bebop altoist is nothing new. In the most recent example, last year's Bouncing With Bud and Phil, Woods was matched up with hard-blowing bebopper Bud Shank. Benjamin Koppel is a much younger musician (born in 1974) who has achieved a certain assured bebop style, and it is certianly interesting to hear the two altoists in direct contrast.
On the opening "Chess Party," Koppel takes the melody and first solo with a slightly rougher delivery. When he hands off to Woods, the altoist's signature sound shows far more distinctive fluency. On other tracks, the difference between the two is not as distinctive. On the ballad "Mother's Song," both musicians play in a lyrical upper register. On the bebop standard "How High the Moon," Woods takes the melody and Koppel plays counterpoint; the direct contrast is interesting.
Chalk up another successful musical meeting for visiting gunslinger Phil Woods!
Personnel: Benjamin Koppel, Phil Woods: alto saxophone; Heine Hansen: piano; Mads Vinding: bass;
Alex Riel: drums.