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Although it would be this reviewer’s first time out at the Regattabar, it was immediately obvious as to why this venue is always named as one of the country’s leading jazz spots. The sights lines are great, seating is up close and intimate, and the acoustics are simply a treat, with little in the way of amplification necessary. Housed in the upscale Charles Hotel in historic Cambridge, the Regattabar was host to Phil Woods and his most current quintet which features trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Kenny Washington, who was subbing for longtime Woods associate Bill Goodwin.
A generous first set lead off with the bebop pleasures of “Bohemia After Dark.” After running through the head, Phil would lean back with his eyes closed and rip into a long and mellifluous solo that easily demonstrated he’s still at the top of his game. Lynch, who had just flown back to the States literally hours earlier, was as fiery as ever and a round of 4’s and 8’s traded with Washington assured the crowd that a fine set was in the offing.
Lynch would step out to shine on the next two numbers, first on his own composition and homage to Kenny Dorham (“Bus Stop Serenade”) and then on “So In Love,” which floated over an agreeable bossa groove. On the latter, Rosenthal distinguished himself as a very fluent soloist while throwing in some Tynerish harmonies to boot. Phil’s own feature would be Benny Carter’s tuneful “Summer Serenade,” which found our alto man stating the melody in a manner that included his signature vocal inflections.
As the lead horns stepped aside, Rosenthal was on display with backing from Irwin and Washington. “Gone With the Wind” may have been the standard selected, but the rendition was anything but standard. Rosenthal would start off with some technically brilliant stride piano before settling into a medium swing. Both Irwin and Washington would have brief moments and the trio as a whole functioned like a well-oiled machine.
Closing things out would be another Lynch homage. This time it was the modestly titled “Woody Shaw” and the pots were on for a bristling flag waver that found Rosenthal and Washington breaking up the rhythm in sagacious ways during the pianist’s solo spot. Much as they had done throughout the set, Woods and Lynch spoke eloquently, both as lead voices and in their own moments in the spotlight. But with the kind of talent on hand here, how could you really lose?