There's a point in Ken Burns' 2-parts-enlightening-to-1-part-frustrating documentary Jazz where Branford Marsalis, who should know better, states that around 1975 "Jazz just kind of died." Even allowing that he rules Miles Davis' music of the era outside the jazz spectrum and has no use for the vibrant avant-garde scene of the time there's no excuse for him ignoring Woody Shaw, who in 1977 followed his rising star on a series of stellar albums for the Muse label (most notably the regrettably out of print The Moontrane and The Iron Men) to release Rosewood, his major label debut for Columbia Records. What Marsalis means is that as a commercial force, jazz had taken a definitive back seat to rock music and R&B and this is a true statement, but as a music between the New York's loft scene, Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and albums like Rosewood (plus Miles Davis’ music through 1975, I would argue), Marsalis shouldn't have been to quick to lament the demise of the music.
Woody Shaw spent the 1960's playing alongside such giants of the music as Eric Dolphy, Larry Young, Horace Silver, Pharoah Sanders, Art Blakey, Andrew Hill and others and learned from them how to incorporate all styles of music and subsume them to the jazz he wanted to make. So while this could easily be described as a kind of post-bop jazz record with all the bracing energy and tuneful forms of the style, Shaw is unafraid to use colors borrowed from Miles’ “fusion” advances (in the form of electric piano), and “free” music, in the form of following Eric Dolphy’s lead in playing “inside and outside at the same time.” Nothing here is too “out” to scare off unwary listeners and every tune sports a melody worth humming along to, in addition to great playing all around. Especially great are “Rahsaan’s Run” a tribute to another hugely underrated jazz player, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who did terrific work when jazz had supposedly “died,” and the lovely “Sunshowers.” But every track here showcases the sextet in peak form, with Shaw himself definitively leading things, though certainly allotting space to his worthy cohorts, particularly saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Victor Lewis. Included after the album reissue are three more tracks from a subsequent session for Columbia that’s unlikely to make its way to CD any time soon, but proves beyond a doubt that this man carried the torch of jazz – however you’d like to define it – in fine form.
- Patrick Brown