When all but the most celebrated jazz artists depart, their surviving producers, family and friends are frequently left with the task of keeping their memories alive. That’s been a challenge for supporters of Woody Shaw, a certifiably great trumpeter and flugelhornist who died young and never acquired the commercial status of horn heroes including his latter-day partner, Freddie Hubbard. Three recent volumes of previously unissued live performances from San Francisco’s Keystone Korner have kept Shaw in circulation. Woody Plays Woody, culled from those albums by his son, Woody Shaw III, strives to promote the New Jersey legend’s gifts as a composer as well as a player.
Consisting of such durable Shaw originals as “Rahsaan’s Run,” “Little Red’s Fantasy” and “Stepping Stone,” this compilation certainly makes its case. But such is the fire of these 1977 performances, Shaw’s skills as a writer can’t help being overshadowed by his brilliance as a soloist-which, with his intellectual prowess, was writerly in its own right. Whether trading hair-raising solos with soprano saxophonist Carter Jefferson, channeling Roland Kirk with trombonist and former Rahsaan cohort Steve Turre, slamming notes in a stunning open field run, or paying lively tribute to organist Larry Young, Shaw turns the Korner into his personal launching pad.
With one exception, pianist Larry Willis, he is heard with members of his stalwart working band of the period, including bassist Stafford James and drummer Victor Lewis. Mulgrew Miller is the pianist on “Ginseng People,” recorded in 1981.