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Woody Shaw: Last of the Line

Robert Spencer By

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Last of the Line is a 2-CD reissue of two excellent albums by the chronically underrated trumpeter Woody Shaw: Cassandranite and Love Dance. Cassandranite is a self-produced 1965 (with one track from 1971) session with Joe Henderson on tenor. Larry Young is also present, on piano (not organ), for "Cassandranite" and "Obsequious," after which he gives way to a pulsing Herbie Hancock for "Baloo Baloo," "Three Muses," and "Tetragon." Ron Carter plays bass behind Young, Mr. P. C. (Paul Chambers) behind Hancock. Joe Chambers drums, and it's his 1971 session from which the last track, "Medina," was lifted. It sports Garnett Brown (trombone), Harold Vick (flute and tenor sax), George Cables (electric piano) and, again, McBee.

Shaw hoped Cassandranite would land him a recording contract, and it certainly should have, but life was never that easy for Mr. Shaw. Love Dance is a 1975 session featuring Shaw's frequent partner trombonist Steve Turre, along with Jackie's boy Rene McLean on soprano and alto, Billy Harper (the original Black Saint) on tenor, Joe Bonner on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums with Guilherme Franco and Tony Water adding additional percussion.

Cassandranite is a beautiful album that can stand with any of the classic mid-Sixties Blue Notes, although Alfred Lion never signed Woody. Shaw and Henderson play off the rhythm with unexpected figures and melodic twists. They also play beautifully together; their tightness on tracks like "Baloo Baloo" recalls the fantastic precision of Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan. On "Three Muses," Hancock sounds sprightly — not quite as given to not playing as he was to be with Miles Davis around the same time. But this is not spare, brooding Miles-ian stuff; on the contrary, everyone sounds in good spirits and the songs are mostly the driving, inspiring kind of Coltrane's middle period and the McCoy Tyner Blue Notes. Shaw's outstanding chops are very much in evidence.

Love Dance is similarly brisk, with the slightly more exotic feel that Shaw came to favor in the Seventies, mostly courtesy the percussionists. On Joe Bonner's title tune the soloists work out over an ostinato figure, as was so popular in those days. But there is nothing ordinary about Shaw's playing, which is simply dazzling. While McLean and Harper are no drags, they do not vie with the leader for center stage, as does Henderson on Cassandranite. Shaw may not have more space on Love Dance, but he certainly garners most of the attention. Harper, meanwhile, sounds like Pharoah Sanders and works well with the backing. This is a fun album: "Obsequious" gets another high-energy workout; "Sun Bath" is enlivened by Turre's big deep sound, and the album ends beautifully with the aptly soulful "Soulfully I Love You," which is a bit like Coltrane's "Naima," but thicker.

These are two excellent albums from a tragically flawed but great trumpeter. Recommended.

| Record Label: 32 Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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