Phil Woods, Bill Mays, Phil & Bill (Palmetto).
A couple of years ago, Mays succeeded Bill Charlap as the pianist in Woods’ quintet. He had melded nicely with the alto saxophonist in casual playing encounters over the years. Regular exposure to one another in the working band deepened their empathy, as this collection of nine duets shows. Their understanding goes beyond merely speaking the same musical language—at their level of experience and knowledge, mastery of the idiom is a given. The Woods-Mays connection is wired with subtleties. These are a few of the manifestations:
● Mutual recognition of the blues sensibility that Gershwin embedded in “How Long Has This Been Going On?”
● Continuity of thought as they trade phrases in an actual blues, “Blues for Lopes.”
● Anticipation of harmonic direction in the coda they create for a jaunty ending to “The Best Thing For You.”
● The dynamics of their interaction in Woods’ tribute ballad “Hank Jones.”
Aside from Woods’ and Mays’ mutuality and superb playing throughout, the album has the virtue of containing songs too seldom heard in jazz, among them Al Cohn’s “Danielle,” David Rose’s “Our Waltz” and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “All This and Heaven Too,” which is often quoted by soloists but curiously neglected in their repertoires. This CD achieves the neat trick of combining relaxation and stimulation. When it ends, a listener may wonder why it was so short. It is nearly an hour.