(Jimmy Amadie, piano / Steve Gilmore, bass / Bill Goodwin, drums / Phil Woods, alto sax)
As soon as one looks at the back of the jewel box of this outstanding jazz release, the names Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin stand out. Yes, these musicians formed the rhythm section for so many years for alto sax master Phil Woods. On six of the eight tracks on this disc, we have not only their sterling work, but the presence of Mr. Woods himself. Maybe it was Mr. Woods’ tremendous admiration for pianist Amadie, or maybe the fact that five of the selections were specifically written with him in mind, but this is definitely some of the alto man’s best blowing of late. The listener is the beneficiary of the truly tight playing that can only come with experience together. The fact that this is the case even though the material was not presented until right before the sessions – with no rehearsal – shows their level of talent. Mr. Amadie composed five tunes while creating the arrangements for three standards associated with Mel Torme. The pianist feels that he learned the most during his tenure with the great song stylist. After recording four tracks during the first session, Mr. Amadie invited Mr. Woods back again for the second session 4 1/2 months later.
This extended period between sessions brings up the current status of the marvelous pianist. By the 1950s he had elevated himself to a level where he played with such notables as Woody Herman, Red Rodney and Mel Torme. His star was in full launch mode when he was struck in 1960 by severe tendinitis that created excruciating pain in his hands, wrists and forearms. It grew progressively worse over the years, finally forcing him to stop playing altogether by the late 1960s. His next album was not released until 1997 as he established a practice of recording as much material as he could stand (less than a full album) and then returning to the studio when he was recovered enough to again address the associated pain. Meanwhile, he adopted a method of practicing in his head. There are not many CD booklets which identify the number of doctors, hand surgeons and physical therapists that Mr. Amadie credits with giving him the ability to play. Also inferred from a close read of the booklet is Mr. Amadie’s inner drive, love of music, psychological strength and positive attitude in continuing on despite such agonizing circumstances.
“Let’s Groove” is the pianist’s fourth release since 2002, all taking lengthy periods to complete. It leaps out of the gate with the title track and swings like mad. It’s superbly paced with the second track a bluesy ballad followed by a trio performance. Then it heats back up with “Lover Come Back To Me”. It then cools back to intimacy with “Roses Are For You My Love”. Then back to the aptly named “Swinging Easy”. We are then treated to Mr. Amadie’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” before a trio performance of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep The Ocean” closes the proceedings.
This release stands as a magnificent example of small group jazz. Bill Goodwin provides outstanding drive and ride cymbal work. Bassist Gilmore is simply excellent in all aspects. Phil Woods truly rises to the occasion with perhaps his best session work of the decade. For me, however, I’m overjoyed by the opportunity to appreciate the gifted pianist/arranger Jimmy Amadie. I’d been unfamiliar with him prior to this disc. Anyone else in the same boat should correct this immediately. This one is a real treasure!
– Birney K. Brown