Phil Woods – Rights Of Swing – Candid Records (1961)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2012) CJS9016 180-gram audiophile stereo vinyl, 38:48 *****:
(Phil Woods – alto saxophone, arrangements; Sahib Shihab – baritone saxophone; Benny Bailey – trumpet; Curtis Fuller – trombone; Willie Dennis – trombone; Julius Watkins – French horn; Tommy Flannagan – piano; Buddy Catlett – bass; Osie Johnson – drums; Granville Roker – drums)
After studying clarinet at Julliard (which apparently did not have saxophone curriculum), Phil Woods moved on to make a name in the jazz bebop culture. As a sideman, he played with Quincy Jones, Gary Burton, Bill Evans, Modern Jazz Quartet, Ron Carter, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. He even has a biographical status in popular music, contributing alto saxophone solos to Billy Joel (“Just The Way You Are”), Steely Dan (“Dr. Wu”) and Paul Simon (“Have A Good Time”).
Woods’ musical legacy remains as a band leader, recording close to fifty albums that produced four Grammys. He is capable of freewheeling improvisation, but is proficient with structured arrangement and composition. Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered Woods’ 1961 opus, Rights Of Swing to audiophile vinyl, enabling another look at the altoist once referred to as the “New Bird”. Woods assembled a group of colleagues from the Quincy Jones (who conducted the group) Band (Benny Bailey, Sahib Shihab, Julius Watkins, Buddy Catlett and Curtis Fuller) and some other studio veterans to express the conceptual elements of his composition. The album is organized into five parts which demonstrate a variety of key signatures and tempos that are succinct, but conducive to improvisation.
Side A gets off to a rousing start on “Prelude And Part I”. The ensemble sets up an introductory theme before a cycle of solos on alto (Woods), trombone (Fuller) trumpet (Bailey) and piano (Flanagan). The soloists operate nimbly within the compositional framework. This sophisticated, bebop. swing is intricate and expressive. Woods is very fluid and Shihab provides deep shading on baritone. “Part II (Ballad)” is an exquisite, harmonic number that features inventive arrangement. During the “slight vibrato” trumpet run by Bailey, the rest of the band offers a graceful embrace around the solo. Woods’ lines are evocative, almost haunting. Flannagan chimes in with another elegant interlude before Julius Watkins takes over on French horn. The exquisite tonality of this instrument that is commonly associated with classical music adds supple texture. “Part III (Waltz)” is a bluesy ¾ time jam that showcases Woods’ versatility and the essence of group counterpoint to individual (in this case, trumpet) play.
A certain highlight, “Part IV (Scherzo)” opens Side B. Easily the longest track (over 11 minutes) of Rights Of Swing, the song combines prominent blues-infused minor keys that lead into prominent, melodic themes. A transition to big band swing is augmented by a brilliant sequence of instrumentals that includes one on doublebass (Buddy Catlett). Flanagan and the rhythm section approximate a classic jazz trio presence. But the formidable ensemble chemistry is intriguing. The finale, “Part V (Presto) revisits bebop with Afro-Cuban undercurrents, syncopated tempos and Woods’ saxophone expertise. Shahib adds an exotic touch, switching to flute, before the “big finish”.
Rights Of Swing is ambitious and compelling. The vinyl technology accentuates the layered acoustics without adding too much density to the mix. The aural quality of the horns and reeds is full and precise. There are detailed, highly technical liner notes from Woods regarding song keys, time signatures and a myriad of reference material.
Side A: Prelude And Part I; Part II (Ballad); Part III (Waltz)
Side B: Part IV (Scherzo); Part V: (Presto)
Chico Hamilton and Little Feat join forces on this impressive 2023 Record Store Day Black Friday release.