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Music Review: Greg Abate – The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods

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A little bop, some Latin stylings and a lot of jumping, straight-ahead jazz and you’ve got the recipe for the newly released album from Greg Abate, The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods. Neither of these sax masters needs any introduction to jazz fans. Abate has been making a name for himself ever since the ’70s when he joined the Ray Charles Orchestra as lead alto sax player. And Woods? Check out the list of bands he’s worked with on his website and you’ll see a veritable who’s who of jazz giants. Put these guys together and you can’t miss, and if you listen to the album you will understand why.

Besides Woods, who plays alto on five of the album’s 10 tracks, the quintet sports a stellar rhythm section. Jesse Green plays piano, Evan Gregor is on bass, and Bill Goodwin handles drums. But while there are tracks where each gets to strut their stuff, the meat of the album is in the horns. When Abate and Woods play together, there is a real chemistry and some magical moments.

The album is made up of eight Abate compositions, one from Woods and a John Patrick ballad, “Marny,” written for his wife. Woods’ “Goodbye Mr. Pepper” is an atmospheric Latin homage from one alto sax great to another, the great Art Pepper. The album opens with Woods and Abate working together on a swinging tune called “Roger Over and Out.” They come together at the end after some nice individual solo work for a sweet interchange of ideas. The solos from Green and Gregor are equally well done. Woods also plays on the bop-styled “Rocco’s Place,” “Carmel by the Sea,” and “J.A.G.” The letters, according to the liner notes, are the initials of the first names of Abate’s three children (and nothing to do with the military).

A multi-sax player, Abate plays alto, soprano and baritone. He even plays a little flute on “Contemplation,” a song he says symbolizes his thoughts, dreams and wishes. “Pear for the Bear” has him on the soprano with a little Latin beat, and Green does some yeoman work on the piano. Perhaps the highlight of the “Woods-less” tracks is the closer “Realization (Living the Dash –).” Written on 9/11/2001, it is an assertion of Abate’s belief that life is precious. The dash signifies what we have accomplished while we’ve been here on earth. The track is a powerful climax for the disc with some fine solo work from the whole ensemble.

While the tunes where Woods sits out are fine, I must confess that for me the highlights of the album came when the two men played together. They felt like something special. This is a collaboration I would love to hear a lot more often.

About Jack Goodstein