Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods

Rhombus Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods

Greg Abate is a 67-year-old saxophonist, flautist, composer and arranger. His music career began shortly after high school, when he gigged with relatively unknown bands in the California area, but he didn’t really become “known” until joining the Ray Charles band in 1973. Another job with the reincarnated Artie Shaw orchestra followed in ’82, along with stints with the likes of Red Rodney, but the major part of Abate’s time has been spent with lesser-known groups. His discography is quite limited (about a dozen albums). 

Phil Woods, a famed saxophonist, clarinetist and composer, is in his 80s. Unlike Abate, Woods has worked with most of the name musicians who ruled the roost from the 1960s onward. His discography is in the hundreds, both as a sideman and leader. Abate — and the music world — consider Woods to be one of the premier alto saxophonists of the bop era, which explains Abate’s thrill at having this giant as a member of the quintet featured on this album.

The supporting members include pianist Jesse Green, son of trombonist Urbie Green (an icon unto himself); bassist Evan Gregor; and drummer Bill Goodwin. The latter is another elder statesman, still swinging at age 71. Green is in his  40s and Gregor is the youngster, still in his 30s. I must note that Woods performs on only five of these 10 tracks, and thus the quintet becomes a quartet on the other tunes.

Abate composed and arranged all but two of the selections. “Marny” is a John Patrick chart, and Woods contributed “Goodbye Mr. Pepper,” a tribute to the great Art Pepper. The genre is bop; except for “Marny,” delivered as a ballad, everything is done at mid- to up-tempos. Woods performs exclusively on alto sax, while Abate switches between alto, soprano, baritone saxes and flute.

This session takes me back to the peak of the period that began in the 1950s. This group feels more West Coast than East; it’s relaxed and pensive. Both Abate and Woods are exceptional talents, but there’s no doubt that Phil remains one of the major names on alto. Charlie Parker was “the man,” but Woods fully deserved — and still deserves — his reputation as “one of the new Parkers.” The fact that he’s in the sunset of his career (age-wise) pains me deeply, but he still blows up a storm.

This is a stellar album, and Abate deserves kudos for producing it.

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