Recorded in 1976 and 1977, two Muse LPs are reissued in one package: The Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble At The Berliner Jazztage and The Iron Men. Trumpeter Woody Shaw, who passed away in 1989 at the age of forty-four, was blessed with a remarkably pretty trumpet tone. His fast and furious hard bop sound, coupled with excursions into new and advanced harmonic areas, made him a favorite among serious jazz fans.
Recorded live at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1976, disc one is an exciting modern mainstream session – how fortunate it was for those who were able to be there to watch it happen. "Hello to the Wind," at over seventeen minutes, features lengthy and creative solo work from Frank Foster on tenor and Slide Hampton on trombone. Pianist Ronnie Matthews stretches out on the hard bop up-tempo "Obsequious" and his own composition "Jean Marie." There's something to be said for live performances, even one taking place during West Berlin's November cold season. Shaw's septet is on fire, and it follows that their passion was somewhat kindled by the large audience. On "Obsequious," Shaw and Hampton trade fours, then Foster and alto saxophonist Rene McLean; each seems to grow in intensity as they proceed. "Jean Marie" eases up on the drive a little, but the alternating triple and duple meters stir up the pot while solos float across the stage from McLean's flute, Foster's soprano, and Shaw's standout trumpet. Drummer Louis Hayes and bassist Stafford James provide an exciting rhythm on the final track; it's not standard fare, but it’s full of excitement and energy.
Eric Dolphy's "Iron Man" starts off disc two in a hard bop vein with exciting solo work from alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe, trumpeter Shaw, and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. Michael Cuscuna's liner notes indicate that Woody Shaw dedicated this LP to "Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Jackie McLean,McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson and all the otheriron men."
"Jitterbug Waltz" features Shaw with a more fluid tone on cornet, Anthony Braxton on clarinet, Abrams and bassist Cecil McBee with exciting solo work, in a standard take on Fats Waller's classic tune. Shaw's original composition "Song of Songs" lends an air of serious drama; there's a Spanish bullfight intensity, presenting the trumpeter's daring and flexible range. Saxophonists Blythe and Braxton follow Shaw's stirring solo with a duet chorus, Blythe on alto and Braxton on soprano. Together, they weave more excitement into the piece before turning it over to the Abrams, who offers a hailstorm of a piano solo. For two brief trio numbers, "Diversion One" and "Diversion Two," with piano and bass, Shaw eschews the hard bop idiom and picks up the flugelhorn to float a few examples of his pure, natural tone. Highly recommended.