JJ 10/81: Woody Shaw Quintet at Ronnie Scott’s

Forty years ago Richard Palmer didn't mind being disappointed to discover that Woody Shaw was substituting for Dexter Gordon. First published in Jazz Journal October 1981

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Woody Shaw at the Bass Clef in London six years later. Photo © Brian O'Connor

I went in excited anticipation of Dexter Gordon’s last night at the club, only to be told that Big Dex was in Italy, playing a concert. Any possible disappointment was transmogrified into euphoria as I listened to his replacement, Woody Shaw and his group.

Woody has, of course, worked with Dexter, most memorably on the superb album The Homecoming; and his two sets were a superb mélange of wit, tenderness, lyricism and surging power. The quintet’s make-up was slightly out of the ordinary in that Woody’s front-line confrère was a trombonist: Steve Turre.

Fronting a ma­jestic rhythm section (Stafford James on bass, Tony Reedus on drums and the ex­ceptionally talented and promising Mulgrew Miller on piano), the two horn men fashioned two hours of the best and most varied hard-bop flavoured jazz I’ve heard for months.

In Your Own Sweet Way, that most durable of Brubeck’s many fine compositions, was a most satisfying opener, featuring long but always gripping solos and a level of group cohesion that did all five guys the highest credit. Other lovely moments included a singing but driving treatment of Wayne Shorter’s waltz United, a lovely Mexicana number com­posed by Stafford James (Teotihuacari), a gorgeous outing for Miller’s piano (a lot more is going to be heard of him, if I’m any judge) on his own Portrait Of The Mountains; and, best of all, a reading of I Can’t Get Started that managed to be suitably reverent to Berigan and the countless others who’ve featured the tune and yet was pure Woody Shaw, the lines crackling and caressing all at once.

The talented and rapidly improving Miguel Brown provided the supporting act; she has a big swinging voice, good choice of material, and she even managed to banish, on God Bless The Child, any degree of discomfort that almost invariably attends any attempt to sing Lady Day’s most poignant number.