Live Volume Four continues HighNote's ongoing series of live recordings from Todd Barkan's Keystone Korner club from the late '70s and early '80s. While trumpeter Woody Shaw never received the accolades he was due during his relatively short lifehe died in '89 at the age of 44these live recordings paint a picture of an innovator who simply was not fully appreciated.
Given the plethora of players informed by the late Miles Davis, Shaw's influence may not be as acute, but it's there nonetheless. His playing is more vivacious than Davis', an outgrowth of Freddy Hubbard's hard bop style that reveals an ability to navigate more avant-garde territory with artists like woodwind multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy and pianist Andrew Hill. Shaw demonstrates a more passionate stance, as opposed to Miles' overt melancholy. He was also less affected by lifestyle; while he had problems of his own, his abilities never appeared compromised, as Miles' most certainly were at various points in his career.
Live Volume Four is specifically aimed at emulating the kind of late night set that one might have experienced with Shaw at this point in time. Largely comprised of standards, its generally more relaxed vibe is only disturbed once, by Shaw's own fiery original "Opec, which is hot enough to break the audience's sense of lull and security. Shaw's quintet, which includes trombonist Steve Turrésurely one of his most sympathetic foils in his latter yearsperennially underrated pianist Larry Willis, bassist Stafford James, and drummer Victor Lewis, attacks Shaw's composition as if they were coming out of the gate at the start of the evening, as opposed to winding down at the end.
Elsewhere the ambience is that of a group of racers cooling down after a long run. Ranging from the mid-tempo "When Lights are Low to the gently Latin-inflected "The Time is Right and the closer, a relaxed version of "Bye Bye Blackbird, Shaw's in strong voice. Even when the mood is more low-key, Shaw's bright choice of notes and keen tone keep things light and deft. Turré, like Shaw, tends to be outgoingthe slightest bit brash, yet completely in keeping with the easygoing amble of the set. Willis, James and Lewis provide intuitive accompaniment; even though the set is more a simmer than a boil, there's no lack of spark.
As with other releases featuring Barkan's recordingsincluding recent Mosaic Select releases by Dexter Gordon and Dave Liebmanthe recording quality is less than perfect. Because of a board mix in a relatively small room, the drums are a little lower than one might hope for, and there are brief periods of clipping. But the performances far outweigh any minor quibbles about sound. Barring the drum level, everything is clear, and James' bass in particular feels surprisingly full-bodied.
Live Volume Four continues to provide evidence that Shaw's importance, sixteen years after his untimely death, is still being felt.
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