Woody Shaw: The Complete Muse Sessions
While Shaw had some major label exposure from 1978 through 1981, when Columbia signed him for a string of five albums, recently collected on The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Legacy, 2011) and including the superb Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard (1979), the majority of his important output was on Joe Fields' Muse Records. Fields may not have had Columbia's financial oomph, but, in retrospect, his label has emerged as even more significant than it seemed at the time, when it was releasing albums by established artists ranging from the recently deceased Cedar Walton and Houston Person to more emergent stars like Pat Martino and Wallace Roney. Shaw's time with Muse bookended his five Columbia recordings, but and his relationship with Fields continued long after the trumpeter's death when, after Muse folded in 1996, Fields immediately bounced back with HighNote Records, where he released a series of posthumous live recordings, culled from Todd Barkan's Keystone Korner club of the late '70s/early '80s, culminating in Live Volume Four (2005).
The Complete Muse Sessions brings nine important recordings back into print with Mosaic Records' usual careful attention to re-mastering and packaging. Few, if any, could bring perspective to this music better than Shaw's own son, Woody Shaw III, also a strong advocate for the legacy of saxophonist Dexter Gordonhis stepfather and a mainstream legend with whom his birthfather also played in the mid-to- late '70s, when Gordon was picked up for a series of Columbia albums, also collected on his own The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Legacy, 2011). Shaw III's extensive liner notes to the seven-CD The Complete Muse Sessions shed important new light on the music, and from a particularly unique and eminently personal viewpoint, reflecting a life spent getting to know the man through music, having traveled and lived with the trumpeter until his passing, when Woody III was only ten years old.
Shaw III breaks these nine recordings into three logical sets: The Moontrane (1975), Love Dance (1976) and The Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble Live at the Berliner Jazztage (1977) focusing on larger, horn- driven frontlines and, in some cases, percussion; In the Beginning (recorded in 1965 but not released until 1983 and later reissued as Cassandranite), Little Red's Fantasy (1978) and The Iron Men (1980) on quintets; and Setting Standards (1984), Solid (1987) and Imagination (1988)also small ensembles recordings, but with emphasis shifting away from his earlier recordings, which relied largely on original compositions from Shaw and his various band mates, to mature explorations of standards and Great American Songbook titles.
While Dolphy had a huge influence on Shaw during his formative years, what would become the trumpeter's most enduring compositionwritten when he was only 18 reflects his ultimate goal: "I would like to do for the trumpet what John Coltrane did for the saxophone." There are nearly fifty recorded versions of "The Moontrane" by over three dozen artists and, while it first appeared on record when Shaw was invited to play on organist Larry Young's soon-to-be-classic Unity (Blue Note, 1965), it's the trumpeter's take on his 1975 Muse debut of the same name that has become the definitive version. A melancholic and instantly memorable melody, largely played in unison but occasionally unfolding in compelling harmony, sets the context for a change-heavy but still modal excursion. Shaw may not recreate Coltrane's "sheets of sound," but he does manage to execute lines with surprising speed, dexterity, harmonic density and broader intervallic leapsall earmarks of the saxophonist's approach, but even more impressive on trumpet for the technical mastery required.
The Moontrane is also notable for Shaw's chosen band mates. Five years his junior, pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs turns in a definitive performance on only his fourth major recording date, following two Betty Carter sessions and one with Norman Connors. The two would reunite a few years later for Rosewood (1978), Stepping Stones and Woody III (1979) when Shaw moved to Columbia, but it's his performance herein particular his fluid and fluent solo on session saxophonist Azar Lawrence's fiery "Tapscott's Blues"that suggests an early promise of even better things to come.
Trombonist Steve Turre was younger still (eight years Shaw's junior), and while his voice was still germinating he still managed to contribute the powerful, Latin- tinged "Sanyas" to the date, featuring a seminal bass solo from Cecil McBee (sharing the record's bass chair with Buster Williams). With Victor Lewis making his first (but far from last) appearance with Shaw, it's Lawrencefresh off his major recording debut with McCoy Tyner on Enlightenment (Milestone, 1973) and a few months after joining Miles Davis on the live Dark Magus (Columbia), recorded in the spring of 1974 but not released until 1977who is the record's biggest surprise, alongside Shaw. His soprano solo on both takes of Shaw's percussion-heavy "Katrina Ballerina" channel the spirit of Coltrane, albeit imbued with a greater sense of space, while his gritty tenor on "Tapscott's Blues" is already indicative of a considerably more personal approach.
It's perhaps notable that, with the exception of the two bonus tracks from the Moontrane sessionsalready released with the 1990s CD issue of the albumplus a previously unheard version of "Sanyas" on Live at the Berliner Jazztage, there's no bonus material in the box. It could mean that Shaw's sessions were so good that there weren't any additional takes, or that they've simply been lost over the years but, based on his reputation, it's a fair guess it's the former. Most of the recordings collected in the box have been out of print in hard media for at least a decade, and only a couple of titles are available in digital format, so the release of The Complete Muse Sessions comes at a time when it's even more important to ensure that Shaw's legacy remains alive and in the public eye and ear. But it's not just Shaw's name that deserves attention; some of his chosen cohorts are equally worth revisiting, like bassist Stafford Jameswho drives both the studio date Little Red's Fantasy and the particularly impressive Live at the Berliner Jazztage, where he bolsters a fast and furious reading of Larry Young's "Obsequious," a tune dating back to Shaw's first sessions as a leader, heard here on the tracks from In the Beginning, with Young (uncharacteristically) on pianoand alto saxophonist/flautist Rene McLean, son of altoist Jackie McLean and clearly a chip off the old block based on Jazzstage and Love Dance, where McLean also demonstrates fine soprano chops on a similarly up-tempo version of "Obsequious."
Shaw demonstrates an unexpectedly freer disposition on The Iron Men, where the presence of two Chicagoansreed multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton and pianist Muhal Richard Abramsgive the session a completely different complexion, despite the participation of Cecil McBee and drummer Joe Chambers, whose relationship dates back to In the Beginning. If nothing elseand there's plenty moreThe Iron Men demonstrates just how much a change in personnel can alter the direction of the music, as Abrams' choppier, more unfettered approach drives the entire group to unpredictable terrain. Two particular tracks"Diversion One," which opens as a trumpet/arco bass duo until Abrams joins, midpoint; and "Diversion Two," a trumpet/piano/bass trio from the very startalso show the full breadth of Shaw's capability; in fact, looking at the entire box set from a big picture perspective, it's clear that Shaw was truly capable of just about anything.
In the Beginning may seem a little tame, especially the quintet's take on Joe Henderson's amiably swinging "Tetragon," but Shaw's own tunes, in particular "Cassandranite," fit perfectly in the context of compositions like "The Moontrane," and while his instrumental mastery would grow in leaps and bounds in the ensuing years, the two dates that make up the albumone, with Young, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers, the other with Herbie Hancock, and Joe and Paul Chambers (no relation)are a clear precursor of what's to come.
Which leaves Shaw's final three recordings for Muse in the mid-to-late-'80s: Setting Standards, a quartet date that, with Shaw alone in the frontline and all the more revelatory for it, seems a little curious for its inclusion of the theme to the popular Spiderman animated television series, as does his decision to put "The Woody Woodpecker Song" on Solid. Still, odd though these choices might seem, in both cases Shaw's performances are beyond exemplary; his eyesight may have been failing but, if anything, his technical mastery of his instrument had reached a level where he could turn the most mundane material into searing exploratory vehicles. And just as his early dates were notable for bringing attention to younger players like Turré, Solid gives up-and-comer Kenny Garrett another chance in the spotlight after Shaw's guest appearance on the altoist's 1984 leader debut, Introducing Kenny Garrett (Criss Cross, 1985). The album's title track, a mid-tempo blues, is also notable as Shaw's only recording to feature a guitarist, in this case Ottawa, Canada-born six-stringer Peter Leitch, while another Canadian, British Columbia-born bassist Neil Swainson, keeps the engine room stoked alongside drummer Victor Jones.
Imagination brings Shaw full circle, sharing the frontline of his quintet with Steve Turré who, thirteen years laterthough, subsequent to Moontrane he would also appear on most of Shaw's Columbia recordingshad also clocked up significant cred through collaborations with everyone from Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders to Lester Bowie and Jerry Gonzalez, not to mention starting his own career as a leader that same year with the Latin-tinged Viewpoints and Vibrations (Stash, 1987).
If Shaw's early recordings were intrinsically more potent recordings, played by a younger firebrand with plenty to prove, his latter-period Muse sessions demonstrated a more mature player, capable of approaching ballads with an inherently delicate touch, in particular the title track to Imagination. He also expanded his palette on Setting Standards to include flugelhorn, the only album, other than The Iron Men (where Shaw turned to cornet for one track and flugelhorn on two others), where he briefly deserted his main axe.
From early sessions filled with promise to later dates delivering on that promise and demonstrating a maturity that gave Shaw the freedom to wax considerably more lyrical, The Complete Muse Sessions, more than any other collection to date, provides the broadest possible look at the career of Woody Shaw, an artist long since gone, but whose memory cannotmust notbe forgotten.
Track Listing: CD1: The Moontrane; Are They Only Dreams; Tapscott's Blues; Sanyas; Katrina Ballerina; Tapscott's Blues (alt. tk.); Katrina Ballerina (alt. tk.). CD2: Love Dance; Obsequious; Sun Bath; Zoltan; Soulfully I Love You (Black Spiritual of Love). CD3: Hello to the Wind; Obsequious; Sanyas; Jean Marie; Bilad as Sudan (Land of the Blacks). CD4: Cassandranite; Obsequious; Baloo, Baloo; Three Muses; Tetragon; Jean Marie; Sashianova. CD5: In Case You Haven't Heard; Little Red's Fantasyl Tomorrow's Destiny; Iron Man; Jitterbug Waltz; Symmetry; Diversion One; Song of Songs; Diversion Two. CD6: There is o Greater Love; All the Way; Spiderman Blues; The Touch of Your Lips; What's New; When Love is New; There Will Never Be Another You; You Stepped Out of a Dream; Speak Low; Solid. CD7: It Might as Well Be Spring; The Woody Woodpecker Song; If I Were a Bell; Imagination; Dat Dere; You and the Night and the Music; Stormy Weather; Steve's Blues.
Personnel: Woody Shaw: trumpet (CD1, CD2, CD3, CD4, CD5#1-3, CD5#8, CD6#3, CD6#5, CD6#7-10, CD7), percussion (CD3), cornet (CD5#5), flugelhorn (CD5#7, CD5#9, CD6#1-2, CD6#4, CD6#6); Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone (CD4#1-5); Larry Young: piano (CD4#1-2); Ron Carter: bass (CD4#1-2); Joe Chambers (CD4#1-5, CD5#4, CD5#6); Herbie Hancock: piano (CD4#3-5); Paul Chambers (CD4#3-5); Steve Turré: trombone (CD1, CD2, CD7#3-8), bass trombone (CD2); Azar Lawrence: tenor and soprano saxophones (CD1); Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano (CD1); Buster Williams: bass (CD1#1-2, CD6#1-6); Cecil McBee: bass (CD1#3-7, CD2, CD5#4-9); Victor Lewis: drums (CD1, CD2, CD5#5, CD5#8, CD6#1-6); Tony Waters: congas (CD1#3-7, CD2); Guillherme Franco: percussion (CD1#3-7, CD2); Rene McLean: alto saxophone (CD2, CD3), soprano saxophone (CD2), flute (CD3), percussion (CD3); Billy Harper: tenor saxophone (CD2); Joe Bonner: piano (CD2); Frank Strozier: alto saxophone (CD4#6-7, CD5#1-2); Ronnie Mathews: piano (CD4#6-7, CD5#1-2, CD3); Stafford James: bass (CD4#6-7, CD5#1-2, CD3); Eddie Moore: drums (CD4#6-7, CD5#1-2); Slide Hampton: trombone (CD3), percussion (CD3); Frank Foster: tenor saxophone (CD3), percussion (CD3); Louis Hayes: drums (CD3); Arthur Blythe: alto saxophone (CD5#4, CD5#5, CD5#7-9); Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone (CD5#6), clarinet (CD5#5), soprano saxophone (CD5#5); Muhal Richard Abrams: piano (CD5#4-9); Cedar Walton: piano (CD6#1-6); Kenny Garrett: alto saxophone (CD6#7, CD6#9); Peter Leitch: guitar (CD6#10); Kenny Barron: piano (CD6#7-10, CD7#1-2); Neil Swainson: bass (CD6#7- 10, CD7#1-2); Victor Jones: drums (CD6#7-10, CD7#1-2); Kirk Lightsey: piano (CD7#3- 8); Ray Drummond: bass (CD7#3-8); Carl Allen: drums (CD7#3-8).
Record Label: Mosaic Records