I love Woody Shaw. You probably do too and, of course, we’re not alone; Miles said he had a truly fresh approach to music, Randy Brecker described him as “the last in a line of trumpeters, who really added something new to the art of the jazz-trumpet…(he) really invented a new language”.
Some back-in-the-day heavy rotation of Larry Young’s Unity and Harry Whitaker’s Black Renaissance first exposed me to that new language; that hot dynamism; that tricksy precision; that unique phrasing; that for-the-hard-of-hearing clarity; and THAT tone (oooh, that tone). For me, he’s one of THOSE artists. One of MY artists.
Onkel Pö’s is a 1982 live set of four Shaw originals, featuring drummer Tony Reedus, bassist Stafford James, pianist Mulgrew Miller and trombonist Steve Turre. By the early 80s Shaw had moved into a straightish post-bop mode, glowing with a sprinkle of soul-jazz shine.
“Katrina Ballerina” is a syncopated modal waltz/swing thing with the rhythm section flawlessly shifting and gliding, transforming and evolving, while Shaw delivers his trademark combination of stutters, lightning runs and lyrical space before Turre, Miller and James each pass the solo baton in a no-fail heat jazz relay. Remarkable cumulative energy and creativity.
“Joshua C” kicks off with a spiritual percussion and piano moment, then an easily hip Shaw/Turre horn lick as Reedus lays a loose ebb and flow groove. As it grows, the liquidity of movement from the other four, that Reedus underpins and encourages, is always stimulating in its use of dynamics and inventiveness. Miller’s solo is particularly sparky and James and Miller’s interplay is a joy.
“Sunbath” is my jam. It’s worked off a thick and funky, doubled up Turre/James soul-jazz bass line that sounds like NOW. Shaw effortlessly drifts his laid-back lines over the rhythm for 5 minutes or so without it ever feeling like he’s going over old ground. Miller, James and Turre all deliver solos that remain on message; loose, relaxed but constantly vital. A deep bath – sunny and compelling.
No gentle exit tonight. “To Kill a Brick” is a furious, edgy hard swinging blues with exasperated, fit-to-burst solos from Shaw and Turre that were probably played rolling around on the sweaty, booze-licked floor. Miller’s solo is a sequence of hold-your-breath deluges before the horns have a quick chat and Reedus completely knackers himself out.
This is a fine sounding, rip-roaring recording of a very live quintet who were absolutely on fire and connected. It’s faultless. I didn’t hear a single cliche throughout; they were constantly inventive and always compelling. And Shaw had pretty much perfected his Shaw-ness by this stage and is nothing short of awesome throughout. 4 out of 5 stars isn’t enough so I’m going to give it 18 out of 20.