Steeplechase (Thriving on a Riff)
A Sleepin' Bee
The End of a Love Affair
Willow Weep For Me
Steeplechase (short version)
Fried Clams With Bellies (spoken)
Phil and Sequel (spoken)
Emotionally Involved (spoken)
Different Keys (spoken)
I'll remember April
Moonlight in Vermont
Strollin' Yardbird Suite
Moonlight in Vermont (short version)
The First One's Free (spoken)
Recorded a year before his death, Phil Woods, suffering from emphysema, was by now playing sitting down with what looks like a plastic oxygen feed to his
nostrils. He teamed up with Greg Abate, fellow altoist, for a session at Chan’s in Woonsocket, RI.
Woods had played with Abate’s band before and slots into the ensemble with practiced, indeed consummate skill with the two altoists’s chase choruses fluid
and perfectly timed. The front line solos are fluent and typically articulate and tempo matters offer equal enjoyment – The End of a Love Affair
for instance is taken at a sprightly, elegant tempo. The expressive blues solo on Angel Eyes is by Abate, as this is the number that Woods sat out
– and here we can hear Abate’s working band stretch out, with pianist Tim Ray picking up Abate’s cues in his own fine solo. There’s a chance for Mark
Walker to display his percussionist wares on Cedar’s Blues – a good player but a dull solo. Abate dons the soprano for Willow Weep for Me
, but he is comprehensively outgunned by Woods’ allusive, hinting and stylish lines over John Lockwood’s walking bass, through the sax trades offer more in
the way of equivalence. The end of the first disc is taken up with four spoken introductions, a rather strange practice, but it preserves things that might
otherwise be lost. Woods’ envoi to the first half of the gig – ‘We’ll be back with the same tunes in different keys’ – cements his wisecracking wit.
The second disc reprises the qualities of the first. There’s a particularly impressive two-alto contrapuntal passage in I’ll Remember April which,
like the majority of the selection, stretches out to the nine-minute mark and that preserves some of the most lyrically convincing playing of the entire
evening – which is saying something.
So, in conclusion: there are eighteen tracks spread over the two well-filled discs. Five of them, however, all short, consist just of speech, which leaves
13 generally longer tracks. Abate proves a splendid foil. This is one of Woods’s last recorded performances, and it is a fitting testament to his
undiminished wit and musicianship that his playing shows little obvious diminution in tone and ideas. He remained indomitable.