One of the finest saxophone albums of the year is The Greg Abate Quintet, Featuring Phil Woods (Rhombus). In fact, this high-pressure bop blowing date is one of Phil's best recent outings, and he's put to the test. I love this album because it's smartly paced, rich with daredevil reed playing, and there's loads of artistic competition. [Photo above: Greg Abate]
Abate, 65, is a seasoned pro. He grew up in Rhode Island, attended Boston's Berklee College of Music in the late 1960s and early '70s and, like many terrific New England jazz musicians, stayed put. He plays soprano, alto and baritone saxes here as well as the flute, but he's most at home on the alto. He has played with trumpeter Red Rodney, saxophonist Jerome Richardson and other leading jazz artists, and he has an acoustic approach that clearly was honed in the '80s.
Though Abate started recording relatively late, in 1980, when you listen to him on this album you realize that someone should be recording this guy weekly. Put the album on and what hits you first is the beautiful strut of his swing, followed by his effortless ability to deliver clean, serpentine improvisational lines.
Which makes you wonder why Phil [pictured above] agreed to climb into the ring with him. But if you know Phil, you know that he loves to get in there and put himself to the test and bang around creatively with those who can really blow. As Phil notes in a blurb on the back cover, "I sleep a lot better knowing there are alto players like Greg! It was a joy to make music with him, and he writes good songs that are challenging." Phil has never flinched at a hard day's work.
And what a relief—you won't find any Songbook nonsense here. Eight of the 10 tracks are by Abate [pictured above], with one by Phil and another, a gorgeous ballad (Marny), by John Patrick, a pianist who Abate has gigged with in New England. How good is Abate as a songwriter? Dig Carmel by the Sea, which he wrote for one of his favorite vacation haunts in California, or Pear for the Bear, which was written for Tom Bates, Abate's jazz-loving friend.
Phil's song, Goodbye Mr. Pepper, was composed as a tribute to Art Pepper, but, say Abate's liner notes, the song has never been recorded until now. Oh, a word about the rhythm section—Jesse Green (piano), Evan Gregor (bass) and Bill Goodwin (drums). Pure taste and huge chops, and they support these two tigers ably. [Photo above: Greg Abate]
There isn't an inch of fat on this album, and every track is brimming with melodic fervor and fun-loving woodchopping. Jazz lives!
JazzWax tracks: You'll find The Greg Abate Quintet, Featuring Phil Woods at Amazon here.
More on Greg Abate here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Greg Abate's Carmel by the Sea with Phil Woods taking the second solo...