In case anyone wonders whether Phil Woods is slowing down at age 70, Voyage provides unassailable evidence to the contrary. Recorded aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 during the Floating Jazz Festival in late 2000, Woods' latest effort exhibits the same mastery of the saxophone and the bebop language that characterized his playing in his prime. His technique remains flawless and the years have provided him with an even greater supply of musical ideas. He still prefers forming short melodic phrases into long sequential patterns. Now, however, the lines often start and end at intriguingly unexpected but satisfying places. And his grab bag of quotations includes everything from familiar early bebop licks to snatches of more recent material (he starts one ballad chorus with an allusion to the introduction to "Parker's Mood"). The excellent rhythm section of Bill Charlap (Woods' regular pianist), bassist Peter Washington and drummer Willie Jones III provides an ideal setting for the altoist's great expressiveness and indomitable sense of swing. Charlap's own bop-derived improvisations complement Woods' neatly in this well-balanced program of nine standard tunes. Flugelhornist Roy Hargrove joins in for a sensitive contribution to "These Foolish Things" and some ripping bop on Kenny Dorham's uptempo blues "'Philly' Twist."
Bill Charlap's several years as Phil Woods' pianist and Jon Gordon's lengthy tenure as one of Wood's finest saxophone students, along with the pair's own longtime friendship, made their duo album inevitable. Contrasts has Gordon sounding somewhat like his mentor on alto (he also plays soprano on three tracks) without slavishly imitating him. But the similarity of the altoists' approaches makes Charlap's role here a relatively familiar one for him. The general ambiance of the recording is one of quiet deliberation, even on the few faster pieces, with the two performers interacting with an empathy that comes from easy familiarity with each other's methods. Again, the repertory consists mainly of standards, although Jack Montrose's "For Sue"-named for Gordon's mother-along with the duo's original title tune and brief epilogue are also included.
Their "Contrasts," a sort of jazz-influenced chamber piece, provides just that: a fast section followed by a slow one; loud passages alternating with subdued ones; notes at the top of the saxophone jumping to the bottom of its range.