Movin' and Groovin'
One of the pleasures of attending the Chicago Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend each year is being able to hear the bevy of local players who make up the Windy City jazz scene. Last year's treat was Juli Wood, a gutsy tenor and baritone saxophonist who also sings with the earthy gusto of an r&b diva filtered through a hard bop sensibility.
On her debut as a leader, Wood is accompanied by the same band that rocked the big stage in Bryant Park in 1997-trumpeter Mike Plog, drummer Dave Bayles, percussionist Dumah Saafir and Hammond B-3 organ legend Melvin Rhyne (a member of the original Wes Montgomery trio).
Wood rips with bar-walking gusto on Wayne Shorter's "Tell It Like It Is" and swaggers on Rhyne's funk-swing romp "Killer Ray," named for his Indianapolis running buddy, drummer Killer Ray Appleton. She brandishes a mean bari on Rhyne's Latin-flavored "Night Vigil" and on a 12/8 rendition of Horace Silver's "Enchantment." As a singer she conjures up a smokey, seductive vibe with "You Won't Forget Me." Her other vocal number, a soulful reading of Nat Adderley's "Old Country," recalls the sly phrasing of Etta James. Then to take things up a notch, she pulls out a bari sax and answers her own vocals with a double time chorus of hot bop. A real double threat.
The criminally under-appreciated Rhyne-who has released a series of albums over the last five years for the Criss Cross label -is in typically fine form here, walking left hand bass lines while layering on hip right hand statements. His presence elevates this consistently swinging and stimulating set.