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08/30/11

Phil Woods & Bill Mays
Woods & Mays
Palmetto Records

When Bill Mays took over the piano chair in the Phil Woods Quintet for the departing Bill Charlap a few years ago, Woods began thinking he and Mays should record a duo album. This past September they spent three hours doing so, and Woods & Mays is the result. Woods, of course, is a living legend of the alto saxophone. Mays is lesser known but highly skilled, and continues keeping busy away from Woods via his own longstanding trio (with Martin Wind and Matt Wilson) and assorted collaborations with trumpeter Marvin Stamm.

Woods and Mays went hunting for off-the-beaten-path standards to build their project around. “When the rhythm section starts to sing your choruses along with you it is time to get some new tunes,” Woods is quoted observing in PR material. The seven they came up with include an especially exquisite rendering of the Al Cohn ballad “Danielle,” Woods and Mays calling to mind something Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington might have done with it. But all the tunes—Jimmy Van Heusen’s “All This and Heaven Too,” David Rose’s “Our Waltz,” Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing for You Would Be Me” and George Gershwin’s more familiar “How Long Has This Been Going On?” are four others—get masterful treatments.

Two other pieces are Woods’ tributes to recently departed friends. “Blues for Lopes” is the most boppish track on the CD, an upbeat celebration of the life of Woods’ hometown friend, mentor and onetime bandmate Joe Lopes. “Hank Jones” honors the late, great pianist, and is more straightforwardly elegiac while still being more celebratory than mournful. Woods’ melody and Mays’ subtly intricate playing both pay fitting homage to Jones’ unassuming brilliance.

Originally published in September 2011
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