Jazz CD Reviews

Woody Shaw – The Complete Muse Sessions – Mosaic Records (7 CDs)

An invaluable box set to follow Woody Shaw’s musical journey…

Published on June 24, 2013

Woody Shaw – The Complete Muse Sessions – Mosaic Records MD7-255 (1965, 1974-1987), (7-CDs )****:

(Artists include: Woody Shaw – trumpet, Flugelhorn, cornet, percussion; Joe Henderson, Frank Foster, Azar Lawrence, Billy Harper – tenor sax; Rene McLean, Frank Strozier, Anthony Braxton, Arthur Blythe, Azar Lawrence, Kenny Garrett – alto sax; Anthony Braxton, Azar Lawrence, Rene McLean -soprano sax; Steve Turre, Slide Hampton – trombone; Rene McLean – flute; Anthony Braxton – clarinet; Larry Young, Herbie Hancock, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Joe Bonner, Ronnie Mathews, Muhal Richard Abrams, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Kirk Lightsey – piano; Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Buster Williams, Cecil McBee, Stafford James, Neil Swanson, Ray Drummond – bass; Joe Chambers, Victor Lewis, Eddie Moore, Louis Hayes, Victor Jones, Carl Allen – drums; Tony Waters – congas; Peter Leitch – guitar; Guilherme Franco – percussion)

It is a rare achievement, (even for the esteemed collector’s label Mosaic Records,) to issue a single box set to cover the lion’s share of the recorded output (as a leader) of an established artist whose career spanned at least three decades. That is one reason why Mosaic’s new release of Woody Shaw – The Complete Muse Sessions, is a singular achievement. With the exception of Shaw’s tenure with Columbia Records (approximately 1977-1981), the Muse Sessions largely fills in the blanks as to Woody’s discography as a recorded bandleader.

The seven CDs, include nine albums ranging from 1965’s Cassandranite, all the way to 1987’s Imagination. (Shaw passed away from health complications in May, 1989). With the addition of the Cassandranite issue from 1965, this box set presents three distinct periods in Woody’s career from 1974 to 1987. Both pre and post his Columbia Records period (which also has recently been re-released as a box set), the nine albums presented here feature: (1) Woody’s concert ensemble from 1974-1976. These are heavy in brass and percussion; (2) Woody as a leader in a quintet setting; (3) The last period covers from the mid to late 1980s as Shaw returns to more standard fare, albeit set to Woody’s exacting and creative flair.

Shaw’s talents as a composer make up most of Disc 5 from the albums Little Red’s Fantasy, and The Iron Men, from 1976-1977. Little Red’s Fantasy has the more mainstream backing of Frank Strozier, Ronnie Mathews, Stafford James, and the (underrated) Eddie Moore. The Iron Men brings in the more free-playing Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams from AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), and Arthur Blythe, from the Underground Musicians and Artists Association. The influence of Eric Dolphy, who inspired Woody early in his career, is felt here. Shaw made his initial recording debut as a teenager on Dolphy’s album of the same name in 1963.

Throughout this prized box set, a constant is the creativity of Woody and a seemingly restless search for dynamic statements. Whether it be a tender lyrical melody, or a free or modal track, Woody was a man on a mission. A review of the famous sidemen above show how well respected Woody was in the jazz community.

A special bonus in this Mosaic set are the erudite liner notes penned by Shaw’s son, Woody Shaw III. He is an ethnomusicologist, and the curator of his father’s work.

Some of my favorite tracks on this extensive set include “Love Dance” from Disc 2, with its infectious Latin percussive rhythms and brilliant ensemble playing. This track was written by Joe Bonner and his piano solo is a highlight, as is Guilherme Franco’s percussion. Woody’s trumpet work shines as well. Joe Chamber’s “Hello to the Wind” has a Caribbean tinge, and once again the group’s ensemble playing opens up the melody to a point where you imagine you are hearing a much bigger band. It would have been a great tune to hear live. Ronnie Mathews’ “Jean Marie” on Disc 4 is deeply moving with Ronnie’s sparkling piano, and Eddie Moore spurring on the group’s energy before Woody steps in to take charge. I’ve always dug Bobby Timmon’s “Dat Dere,” presented here on Disc 7, and Woody’s quintet strongly brings to mind Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Lee Morgan. This tune from the Imagination album, was also recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in 1987.

The acoustics on this entire set are first rate with the remastering by Malcolm Addey first rate as always. For those Shaw fans who only have his Columbia albums in their collection, it would be a wise decision to pick up this limited edition set as Woody’s Muse albums are hard to come by picked up individually. The Mosaic box set’s deluxe treatment, liner notes with period photography, and the superb sound just makes the purchase of The Complete Muse Sessions an easy decision to make.

Album Index:

The Moontrane
Love Dance
Little Red’s Fantasy
The Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble Live at The Berliner Jazztage
The Iron Men
In the Beginning…
Setting Standards

—Jeff Krow

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