Sunday, February 19, 2017

Listening to Prestige 246: Phil Woods-Red Garland

Found "Sugan" on YouTube, hit "play," forgot what was I was doing, half-listening to great Phil Woods solo, then gradually found myself asking, "Wow...what's happening with the piano behind Phil? That's amazing."

Ah yes, as well it should be. A Phil Woods - Red Garland collaboration? You couldn't ask for better. And then, with my attention fully engaged, Red went into his solo.

Anyway, I got held up for a while. "Sugan" grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go, through four consecutive listenings, and since it's nine and a half minutes long. that meant a sustained half hour plus of "Sugan," every time marveling at it. Garland's solo is three minutes long, and with at least four unexpected twists and changes of direction. Ray Copeland does some fine solo work too, but even better are his duet exchanges with Woods. The number concludes with something you didn't hear all that often in jazz of the fifties, and that's a fadeout. Whether that was Rudy's or Weinstock's idea, it happened to work perfectly with Copeland's and Woods's exchanged phrases. Give a listen.

The session is half Woods originals, half Charlie Parker. A gutsy choice by Phil, for whom an exchange with Bird was a turning point in his career, and who would, in fact, marry his widow, Chan Parker. Maybe "gutsy choice"  isn't right. Maybe a natural choice. Anyway, a good choice.

I'd just be repeating myself if I went over every cut on this album. The level of inventiveness never flags. The musicians do everything you want jazz musicians to do. They go off on their own, they're always working with each other. They respect the melody, they're not limited by the melody. Ronny Graham, in his great comedy routine "Harry the Hipster's Commencement Address to the School for Modern Jazz Musicians" tells his graduating class, "When you cats came here, all you could play was the melody. Now you wouldn't know a melody if it hit you in the mouthpiece." These cats know the melody, and a whole lot more, and you don't even need a cache of stashay in your sachet to appreciate it.

It's good to hear Ray Copeland, who didn't record much. His only other Prestige outing was with Monk in 1954, and I commented about that session, "perhaps the only thing better than listening to Thelonious Monk is listening to Monk play with someone who really gets him." Monk was a rare and idiosyncratic talent, but Copeland gets Woods and Garland too, and their interplay is one of the joys of this album.

Copeland's most active collaboration was with Randy Weston, another visionary. He went on to have a distinguished career as an educator, teaching jazz composition at Hampshire College in Amherst Massachusetts, part of Amherst's five college consortium that was a pioneering center of jazz education (Max Roach taught at Amherst). In 1974, he published The Ray Copeland Method and Approach to the Creative Art of Jazz Improvisation.

You need to wonder about the marketing of this one. Was Prestige overloaded with product at this point? They did a lot of recording in 1957 -- 70 sessions, as compared to a little more than half of that the following year. How much is too much product? I guess it depends on your pressing capabilities and your distribution capabilities. Anyway, this wonderful record, titled Sugan and with nice but not really inspired cover art, was dumped into the budget bins as a Status release. It was also included as part of one of those weird 16 2/3 super-LPs, called George Wallington, Phil Woods, Donald Byrd, Red Garland - Modern Jazz Survey - New York Jazz. 

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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