Phil Woods Quartet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Phil Woods Quartet 

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If you're going to celebrate the August birth of Charlie Parker (as Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase does every year), you can't top Phil Woods as your headliner. Woods remains so active--recording frequently, judiciously updating his long-running band, touring regularly--that it's easy to lose sight of his extraordinary musical stature. Along with his contemporary Cannonball Adderley, Woods essentially defined the alto saxophone in jazz after Parker's death in 1955, and over the succeeding four decades he has honed one of the most personal and recognizable styles in all of jazz. It resembles a language all its own, marked by distinctive idiomatic expressions--equivalent to spoken slang--that occur within the complex grammar and syntax of bebop, of which he has complete command. And these phrases reach the ear via his remarkable tone: layered, throaty, neon, and filled with vocally inflected devices of an earlier era. (Such techniques serve as reminders that before coming under Parker's sway, Woods found his first inspiration in the swing-era alto giants Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges.) Woods has received his share of critical firebombs, and for a while there he even deserved them: he seemed to have lost control of his juggernaut style, which proceeded to careen dangerously close to self-parody. But that was then; nowadays, few artists in any milieu can match his combination of real emotion and brash virtuosity, of the sort that has always had a place in jazz. Woods's quartet, which plays without amplification, features the garrulous Chicago-born pianist Jim McNeely. Tuesday through next Sunday, August 8, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/K. Abe.

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