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Woody Shaw: Live, Volume Three

It has become common in writing about Woody Shaw to dwell on the trumpeter’s sad final years and the shock of his death in 1989 following a bizarre accident in the New York City subway. That tends to put in the background the remarkable music Shaw made when he was flourishing. The latest evidence of his ability and originality is on this final volume of recordings made during a club engagement in 1977. In his JazzTimes review of Volume One, Ron Wynn remarked on Shaw’s “lyrical, striking lines, crisp articulation and adept turnarounds.” There is plenty of that in this hour, wrapped in the concept of dynamics that was so important an element of Shaw’s approach and delivered with a tone that was huge from the bottom to the top of his range.

The compositions are all Shaw’s or those of other band members, played at length; no track is shorter than 10 minutes. The pieces sound modal even when, technically, they are not-that was the territory Shaw staked out. It was where he loved to roam, in the harmonic precincts opened up by John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. His steadfast commitment to that area of music may have limited his audience, but listeners who bought in to the absence of familiar listening guidelines were treated to the thrills of Shaw’s vaulting intervals on “Ginseng People” and “Seventh Avenue,” the enchantment of his fantasizing on “Little Red’s Fantasy,” the assurance and continuity of his lines on “Organ Grinder.”

Then 28, trombonist Steve Turre was not soloing with the thematic cogency he later developed, but his chops and rambunctiousness made him a fine counterpart and foil for Shaw. Mulgrew Miller is the pianist on two tracks, nudging and urging Shaw to great effect on “Ginseng People.” Pianist Larry Willis is on three tracks, and his solo on “Little Red’s Fantasy” is one of the album’s highlights. Stafford James is the stalwart bassist, and drummer Victor Lewis is ripe with imagination and energy throughout.

Now it can be told: This series of recordings was made at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner. For reasons not explained, the location was undisclosed when the first two volumes appeared.

Originally Published