In 1978, just coming off what most Woody Shaw fanatics consider his masterpiece, 1977's Rosewood, Shaw planned on recording another studio album with a similar sound. However, after a disappointing session, Shaw thought better of his initial choice and the band regrouped for a two-night stint at New York's fabled Village Vanguard. The results were nothing short of magic as the band sounds technically and creatively inspired. Interestingly, Shaw is playing cornet here and loses nothing of his rounded, clarion bell tones. Also, given the superb production, Stepping Stones bests some other live Shaw recordings, sounding as good as a studio effort. Joining Shaw is his regular group of the time, including tenor saxophonist Carter Jefferson, pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, bassist Clint Houston, and drummer Victor Lewis. One would be hard-pressed to find a better hardcore, post-jazz ensemble in the late '70s. To that end, the music here is soulful, cerebral, harmonically complex jazz that is the epitome of post-bop. Shaw was underappreciated while alive and still more often than not is overshadowed by the more well-known Blue Note icon trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. While Shaw was no doubt heavily influenced by Hubbard -- who was five years his senior -- Shaw nonetheless refined and pushed Hubbard's athletic and harmonically complex style. If Hubbard was the innovator, Shaw pushed those innovations as far as they could go. Few have come close to approaching his artistry and cerebral architecture and none have gone past it. Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard captures that artistry in motion.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar