The Phil Woods SixLive from the Showboat
Sony Music Japan
With the sad passing of Phil Woods on September 29, 2015, what better way to honor the career of this alto (and occasionally soprano) saxophone giant with the Rediscovery of a live album that, long out of printand previously only available on CD in a truncated, single-disc edition that excised some of its most exhilarating momentshas finally seen the light of day in its entirety with a Japanese reissue earlier this year.
Wood's Live from the Showboat
was originally released in 1977 by RCA Victor, and was a pretty ballsy move, given that jazz coming out of the Unjted States at the time was generally more electric in nature. The fusion of jazz and rock that occupied much of the early part of the decadewith mega-selling groups like the chops-heavy Mahavishnu Orchestra
and Return to Forever
sharing the wealth with Herbie Hancock
's funk-a-licious Head Hunters, the uptown groove of the Brecker Brothers
and Miles Davis
' jungle-dense sonic explorationswas beginning to make the slow move toward easier on the ears music from artiste like Dave Grusin
, Lee Ritenour
and Larry Carlton
that would ultimately morph into the even more radio-friendly sound of smooth jazz. Ugh.
And so, in the midst of all this, a two-LP live set that met all these changes with an unrelenting acoustic blend of swing, samba and gentle balladry? Only a musician as firmly committed as Phil Woodswho emerged in the bebop era and, while evolving as any great artist should, remained true to his roots throughout his careerwould have the vision to stick with what he knew and loved most, while at the same time not ignoring what was going on around him. After all, it was Woods who would appear as the featured soloist on "Dr. Wu," one of the more memorable tunes from the increasingly jazz-informed pop group Steely Dan
's Katy Lied
(MCA, 1975). Live from the Showboat
includes its fair share of jazz standards, alongside originals from Woods and some of his band mates, like a burning version of Irving Berlin
's "Cheek to Cheek," which begins with an a cappella
intro from Woods that gradually becomes a duo with Mike Melillo
the pianist making his second recorded appearance here with Woods, but who would remain a member of the saxophonist's various-sized groups through to the early '80s. And the album opens with an alto/guitar duet with Harry Leahey that suggests a balladic look at Harold Arlen and Truman Capote's "A Sleepin' Bee" but, once Melillo, bassist Steve Gilmore
and drummer Steve Gilmore
entertwo more musicians who would remain players of choice for Woods almost into the new millenniumit shape-shifts into an ambling swinger that provides plenty of solo space for both the saxophonist and pianist.
Still, Woods wasn't averse to mining contemporary song for his repertoire, and one of the understated highlights of Live from the Showboat
is a relatively brief look at "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)," one of the most memorable ballads from Stevie Wonder
's breakout solo album as an adult, Music of My Mind
(Tamla/Motown, 1972). Beyond Woods' wonderfully spare solo, it's Leahey's lyrical turn that defines the track and makes it a highlight of the 114-minute set.
Leahey, who passed away too young in 1990 at the age of 54, may never have achieved the acclaim he deserved, but in a short career that included everyone from Woods, Gerry Mulligan
, Al Cohn
, Warren Vache
and Maynard Ferguson
on his résumé, the guitaristwho as an educator, included future names like Vic Juris
, Jon Herington
and Chuck Loeb
amongst his massive list of studentswas well-known amongst musicians, garnering accolades like " He was the top of the heap. He was the best guitarist that I had ever played with and I played with every [one]," from his employer on Live from the Showboat
But it's "Brazilian Affair" that is the album"s centerpiece, a nearly 22-minute, episodic excursion into a variety of Brazilian-informed themes and rhythms that gives everyone the opportunity to solo at length, including percussionist Alyrio Lima, who delivers an in tandem solo with Goodwin that lifts the already high-reaching track into the stratosphere at its conclusion.