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Greg Abate: The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods

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Greg Abate’s latest is a decidedly meat-and-potatoes affair, a straight-ahead outing on which the saxophonist is joined by one of his major influences, alto master Phil Woods. No-frills doesn’t mean no thrills, however, as there’s much pleasure to be had in the sound of these two gifted players doubling up on alto and combining Woods’ alto with Abate’s work on other woodwinds.

Abate and Woods, backed by pianist Jesse Green, bassist Evan Gregor and longtime Woods associate Bill Goodwin on drums, turn in a set of 10 tunes dominated by the leader’s compositions, beginning with “Roger Over and Out,” a medium-swinging twin-alto charmer that allows plenty of solo space for each saxophonist. The two, playing harmony and unison lines, improvising and engaging in a call-and-response section at the tune’s end, sound at once shiny and dark-toned, bright and richly textured; it’s easy to warm to their sound. They join again on “Rocco’s Place,” with Abate on bari sax, and “Carmel by the Sea,” another two-alto effort. Woods’ haunting ballad “Goodbye Mr. Pepper,” for Art Pepper, also features the dual-alto frontline. The light and airy, Latin-tinted “J.A.G.,” also with Woods, has Abate on flute.

Abate turns to soprano for the spiky “Pear for the Bear,” offering plenty of well-taken solo space for Green and Gregor, and the laidback “Special K,” written for his life partner. He wields the bari again for “Marny,” a shimmering ballad penned by John Patrick. He closes the set with a quick-moving “Realization (Living the Dash),” a sprawling soprano-led tune that incorporates a bracing, unaccompanied solo by Goodwin. There’s no overarching concept here, just 70 minutes of artful playing by an often underappreciated saxophonist and his instantly identifiable mentor. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Originally Published