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Bud Shank & Bill Mays: Beyond the Red Door

There’s really no news in the fact that alto saxophonist Bud Shank has continued to blossom as a player since ending his long tenure in the West Coast studios. What he creates with sensitive pianist Bill Mays on Beyond the Red Door shows that thoughtful and thought-provoking music can be fashioned within the simple format of a duo. This is, of course, not simple music. For nearly 72 minutes the pair just relaxes and seeks the good notes, mostly finding the meaningful while leaving behind the banal.

The selection of tunes is difficult to fault, although there’s a tendency toward slow ballads that match the intimacy of the session. Only the opening “Red Door” by Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan has the sort of spunk that some listeners will want in greater abundance. The medley comprising Russ Freeman’s “The Wind” and Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” takes such a beautiful turn that most fans will hang around through Bud and Linda Shank’s “Why Not Now?” and Mays’ “Quietly.” Ray Noble’s “The Touch of Your Lips” is treated to an expansive exposition, with Mays playing the piano’s innards while Shank slowly pieces together the theme in fragments before the duo takes off for a fairly lively rendition. “I Loves You Porgy,” the Gershwin love song, is taken in slow and tender fashion, then followed by a lilting “Carousels,” another work by the Shanks. Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love,” the penultimate track, offers some bounce along with a respectful tune treatment. The closing “Where or When” by Rodgers and Hart opens with ease before picking up the pace as the main theme is stated.

Shank’s sound, somewhere between Phil Woods and Lee Konitz, has added so much grit since his early days on the sound stages of Los Angeles. Mays, an uncluttered stylist, just takes things with an ease that is creatively satisfying.

Originally Published