Live (Volume One)
Trumpeter Woody Shaw was a compelling, exciting soloist and bandleader whose '70s and '80s recordings were consistently excellent, and occasionally spectacular. Yet even within jazz circles Shaw didn't enjoy the prestige and fame he deserved. Unfortunately, after his tragically premature death in 1989 at 45, many observers reexamined his fine dates for Enja, Red, Muse, Timeless and Columbia and concluded that jazz had suffered another irreplaceable loss. That fact is reaffirmed with this 1977 recording spotlighting a Shaw unit in transition. Shaw cut his first major-label date that year, the wonderful Rosewood album that Columbia ultimately bungled as badly as they did the four other LPs he made for them. His group included resolute drummer Victor Lewis, steady bassist Stafford James (who replaced the equally fine Clint Houston) and pianist Larry Willis. Willis provided blues grounding, some flash and harmonic edge though he wasn't as prone to flamboyant phrases like Shaw's eventual regular pianist, Onaje Allan Gumbs. The final element was saxophonist Carter Jefferson, a muscular, intense player whose Coltrane influences on tenor were abetted by his energy and relentless manner.
This quintet barrels through the disc's four tunes virtually without respite other than song fadeouts. Despite a lack of compositional variety, the playing's seldom less than superb. Shaw's lyrical, striking lines, crisp articulation and adept turnarounds and flourishes are ably balanced by Jefferson's penchant for dramatic entrances, exits and lengthy, whirling comments and bursts. Lewis and James resound underneath, and Willis, as the third major voice, is sometimes aggressive, other times restrained, but always tasteful and emphatic during his solos.
The ensemble's tightness during the unison segments is indicative of a band where everyone was not only comfortable, but also able to quickly respond and interact no matter what direction the music took. The only negative thing about this recording is the lack of basic information regarding its locale. There's multiple credits identifying everything from the designer and photographer to the producer and engineer, yet there's nothing about where it was recorded, over how many nights or what type of place. Still, this oversight doesn't detract from some marvelous music. Live: Volume One is another major addition to the legacy of a sorely missed jazz great.