The Bob Lark / Phil Woods Quintet: Live at the Jazz Showcase (2009)
The order of names on this superb in-concert CD could have gone either way. On the one hand, four-fifths of the quintet is actually the Phil Woods Quartet; on the other, trumpeter Bob Lark, who shares the front line for a second time with alto saxophonist Woods (their 2006 collaboration for Jazzed Media was In Her Eyes), wrote the first three of the album's seven selections, which clearly gives him a leg up. Maybe in the end they flipped a coin, or played rock-paper-scissors, and when neither of those ventures worked as planned, decided to align themselves in alphabetical order. Or perhaps the deciding factor was the moral and financial support granted by the Research Council at Chicago's DePaul University, where Lark directs the school's outstanding Jazz Ensemble.
While the origin of the group's name may be unclear, one facet is unassailable: Lark belongs precisely where he is, alongside the iconic Woods and in front of the group's remarkably talented rhythm section (Jim McNeely, piano; Steve Gilmore, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums). Lark plays flugelhorn most of the way during the prismatic concert session taped at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, one of the few such venues remaining in a city that once was well-known for their number and variety. The live performance gives everyone ample opportunity to stretch, and the solos are invariably earnest and resourceful. McNeely, a pianist for all seasons who has long-standing ties to DePaul as a visiting lecturer/performer, dons his "straight-ahead" cap here and traces an indelible image as soloist and or accompanist.
The group breaks the ice at a nimble canter with Lark's sunny "Ravenswood," brandishes its samba chops on "Mad Dan's," and wraps up Lark's trilogy of themes with the sensuous ballad "Cathy's Song." Miles Davis' oft-played "All Blues" is next, followed by the standards "It's You or No One," "Every Time We Say Goodbye" and "What Is This Thing Called Love." The first and last of these lay bare a welcome change in tempo as Lark/Woods and Co. open the throttle and start burning rubber. They are neatly sandwiched around "Goodbye," the most temperate ingredient on the menu.
Lark/Woods or Woods/Lark, this is a princely alliance at the pinnacle of its proficiency and power. Needless to say, it is positively endorsed.
Track Listing: Ravenswood; Mad Dan's; Cathy's Song; All Blues; It's You or No One; Every Time We Say Goodbye; What Is This Thing Called Love.
Personnel: Bob Lark: flugelhorn; Phil Woods: alto sax; Jim McNeely: piano; Steve Gilmore: bass; Bill Goodwin: drums.