Bud Shank Quartet with Phil Woods

On Monday, November 8th, I witnessed history in the making: Bud Shank and Phil Woods, two of the greatest alto saxophonists alive, shared a bill at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. Although both men are in their 70s, their playing is still captivating and youthfully energetic. Yet the show was not merely that of an all-star band. Woods' fluid bebop lines and Shank's screaming, often avant-garde playing complimented each other, creating an exciting night of music.

Although both Shank and Woods are rooted in the music of Charlie Parker, each has created his own vocabulary. Woods is more virtuosic and blues-oriented. Shank at times resembles Eric Dolphy in his howling tone and loose solo structure. Yet, their disparate vocabularies made for a very interesting conversation. As soon as one finished his solo, the other would respond. The two saxophonists' solos flowed together and seemed like continuous thoughts.

A prime example of this came in their rendition of Woods' song, "And It was Nowhere." The song's familiar chord changes - reminiscent of standards and Charlie Parker tunes- allowed for both men to become more expressive. When it came time for the horn players to trade fours with drummer Bill Goodwin, the three musicians began what sounded like a friendly argument, every four bars becoming more furious and technically dazzling. When Woods quoted "Harlem Nocturne," Shank responded with "Donna Lee," and Goodwin with a break so rhythmically enticing he had the entire club shaking and hollering.

Another high point was when the band played pianist George Cables' beautiful "Helen's Song," deceptively simple, like a children's song. Starting with a funky ostinato played by bassist Bob Magnusson, the rest of the band soon joined in the soulful melody. Then came the real treat: Magnusson took a slap bass solo, pianist Mike Wofford played a solo that started quiet and slowly built into a storm of notes, and Shank took a solo that resembled Kenny Garrett's playing with its gospel-like enthusiasm.

I arrived at the Kuumbwa on Monday night expecting to see two men who were on the threshold of innovation fifty years ago, but was surprised to find two men who are still exploring that ground today.


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