Woody Shaw ‘Tokyo ’81’ LP/CD (Elemental Music) 4/5

Trumpeter Woody Shaw was at his zenith in the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and this was at a time when a young Wynton Marsalis was only beginning to make his way and Miles Davis was barely out of retirement and striving to regain both his stamina and tone. In 1981,then one could argue with some conviction that Woody Shaw ruled the roost among jazz trumpeters, with, perhaps, Freddie Hubbard, his nearest and only serious rival. This fine live recording coincided with Shaw’s tenure at Columbia records, including the 1981 album, ‘United’, and that is reflected in the choice of numbers. Seasoned devotees of the musician will want to compare it with the lovely 1977 Muse album, ‘Concert Ensemble at the Berliner Jazztage’, which features a larger brass ensemble. On this later recording, which lasts just under seventy-five minutes, the pared down formation is that of a quintet comprising Steve Turré on trombone, Stafford James on bass, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Reedus on drums. No saxophonists whatsoever, and all but two pieces are Shaw originals..

The familiar, ‘Rosewood’, rates as one of Woody’s finest compositions and is an opportunity for the young pianist to shine, displaying his credentials as an avowed disciple of both the Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner schools of jazz piano. The melodic motif is embellished by some fine bowed bass soloing from James. An intimate and warm interpretation of the Monk standard, ‘Round Midnight’, features Shaw and Turré in tandem, with crisp soloing from the leader and then a refined piano solo from Miller. As a bonus, the near fifteen minute, ‘Sweet Love Of Mine’, live date from July 1985 at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague, impresses with an extended brass section that includes Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton and Dizzy Reece. Informative sleeve notes come courtesy of Woody Shaw’s only son, Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III. It is a genuine double tragedy that Woody Shaw’s passing should be in such a dramatic fashion, severing his left arm in a subway accident and subsequently dying of kidney failure, aged just forty-four while in 2013, pianist Mulgrew Miller should also depart, aged fifty-seven.

Tim Stenhouse