Selection: Altology (Woods)
Gene Quill, Phil Woods (alto saxophone) George Syran (piano) Teddy Kotick (bass) Nick Stabulas (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, March 29, 1957
In the shadow of Charlie Parker, dazzling technique, blistering speed, the late Fifties saw many many battles of saxophone prowess where the liner notes become essential reference to tag the running order of the soloists. Phil and Quill here pit alto against alto in a running series of chases, of seldom matched exuberance.
Woods is an improvisational craftsman with phenomenal mechanical skill, lightning-fast thinking on his feet, who uses the whole register to joust and dashingly cross swords with his mock opponent Gene Quill. On the fly, they slip in quotes from popular songs, and swing like hell. Woods is a very singular alto talent, in a field crowded with talented altoists. He’s a personal favourite of mine (along with countless others)
Prestige original design: – well, what is there to say? Hi Phil, Hi Gene.
Vinyl: Esquire 32-050 1st UK release of Prestige PRLP 7115 – RVG – AB – 153gm
Source: Record store: Central West London.
The saxophone is arguably the most expressive instrument of the modern jazz front line. Nothing comes close to it for capturing emotion except possible trumpet in the right hands. It is effectively a voice which carrys the unique inflection of the individual musician, such that no two players of the same instrument sound alike. On alto, Konitz, Woods, Pepper, McLean, Stitt, all immediately recognisable. Sadly in the wrong hands the alto morphs into smooth jazz and fusion nightmare, hot licks constantly straining at the upper register, each climax seeking to overtake the preceding climax : Kenny G, David Sanborn, nothing has me reaching for the off switch faster.
There is more to music than end-to-end musical climaxes. ( I thought long and hard about that sentence, snigger, but you know what I mean? ) Music deploys the whole gamut – light and shade, fast and slow, quiet and loud, its called music, but it takes time and skill and thought, and an audience wanting to appreciate, not a multitasking background playlist. I realised I was not on the same page when on a train into London the other day I found myself virtually the only person in the carriage not staring intently at a hand-held device, wires trailing from ears. The hell with that stuff. I was on my way to buy some records.
Post-script December 29,2013
Phil and Quill mania – You wait ages for a Phil and Quill, then two come along at once. Notes annotated by a previous owner with NYC – March 15, 1956. Different line up and different song titles.
Two altos and Bari. Interesting brass front line, and the magnificently named Shadow Wilson on drums.