Song of Songs (1972)

This album was Woody’s follow up to Blackstone Legacy, and features Emanuel Boyd on flute and tenor sax, Ramon Morris and Bennie Maupin on tenor saxes, George Cables on piano and keyboards, Henry Franklin on bass and Woodrow Theus II on drums. All four tunes on the album are composed by Woody, and he is beginning to develop his own compositional voice. The music is generally pretty avant garde and reveals the influence of several key musicians.

The influence of John Coltrane can be heard in the extended sections of collective, free improvisation over drones, especially in the first tune, Song of Songs, and the last tune, The Awakening. This tune also morphs into a funk groove which sounds very similar to the type of music being made by Miles Davis during this period. The Goat And The Archer, the second tune on the album is loosely based on a blues structure in F concert, although the actual chords being played are constantly changed by the musicians in a manner reminiscent of the tune If from the album Unity (see post below). The third tune, Love: For The One You Can’t Have is a beautiful tune which fits in neatly with the evolution of Woody’s compositional technique. I need to transcribe this tune, as well as others, to try and see what principles he used and developed when composing.


Blackstone Legacy (1970)

Blackstone Legacy is Woody’s debut album as a leader and features Gary Bartz and Bennie Maupin on saxophones, George Cables on keyboards, Ron Carter and Clint Houston on basses, and Lenny White on drums. The album is regarded as Woody’s answer to Bitches Brew, released the previous year, and some of the tracks are very reminiscent of the Miles Davis classic – the free funk number New World sounds particularly indebted to Miles. However, Blackstone Legacy is more than an attempt to copy Miles’ achievements, and some of the tunes are more reminiscent of an Ornette Coleman time-no-changes feel – for example, the up-tempo Lost and Found.

Whilst the playing on the album is generally extremely inventive and interesting to listen to, Woody at times sounds at times like he is trying a bit too hard, resulting in overblowing and a diminishing of tone quality, as well as occasionally a shaky time feel. However, having said this, his playing on a few of the tracks is inspired, particularly on New World. He sounds very similar to Freddie Hubbard in places, but you can also hear occasions where his own unique voice and harmonic language burst through. The lengthy solos and harmonic freedom give all the soloists a chance to experiment and try out new ideas.

Woody wrote four tunes for the album, with George Cables supplying the other two. The written heads are all interesting in themselves and serve as suitable springboards for lengthy improvisations. Woody’s compositions Blackstone Legacy and Boo-Ann’s Grand are particularly compelling and provide an insight into how Woody was approaching music at this time – I will definitely be transcribing these tunes and trying them out myself.

Rosewood (1977)

Rosewood is the first Woody Shaw album I ever heard and it is a fantastic record, fully deserving the award of Best Jazz Album of 1978 in the Down Beat reader’s poll. The album is built around the quintet of Woody Shaw (tpt), Joe Henderson or Carter Jefferson (tnr), Onaje Allan Gumbs (pno), Clint Houston (bs) and Victor Lewis (dr) – however, on most tracks these musicians are augmented by a “concert ensemble” including flutes, saxes, trombone, percussion and harp.

Woody composed most of the tunes, with the sidemen Victor Lewis, Onaje Alan Gumbs and Clint Houston submitting a tune each. Most of the tunes on the album are up-tempo with a latin or samba feel to them, and the pulsating, energetic latin grooves provide the perfect canvas for Woody to showcase his masterful use of pentatonic scales to alternate between “inside” and “outside” playing. This is the case both on tunes with fast moving chord sequences, such as Rosewood, and on more modal tunes such as The Legend of the Cheops and Isabel, the Liberator. Rahsaan’s Run is the most straight-ahead number on the album, an extremely fast blues based on sus chords in the manner of Miles Davis’s Eighty One. Another Davis influence is evident on the introduction to Sunflowers which sounds incredibly similar to the introduction to In A Silent Way, the second tune on Miles’s 1969 album of the same name.

Woody is in incredible form on this recording, and there is much I can learn from his playing. His time and articulation are impeccable, even though most of the tunes are played at seriously fast tempos. His explorations of “outside” harmony are measured and confident, and his resolutions are often exquisite. This is definitely a record made by a musician at the top of his game. I have transcribed Woody’s solo from Rosewood and will hopefully post it on this blog soon complete with analysis. Then I will move on to transcribing some of the other solos as there is much for me to learn from this album.