Mosaic's 2013 Woody Shaw box set The Complete Muse Sessions brings together all of the albums the innovative jazz trumpeter recorded for the label during the 1970s and later in the 1980s. Largely out of print since their initial release, save for a number of reissues on the now defunct 32 Jazz label, these Muse albums represent not only some of the most important recordings of Shaw's career, but some of the most influential and individualistic artistic statements by a jazz artist in the 20th century. With his combination of technical prowess and knowledge of the jazz tradition, as well as a keen harmonic vision for where to take his music and jazz as a whole into the future, Woody Shaw was a towering if often underappreciated figure during his lifetime. Taking inspiration from his slightly older contemporary, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, innovators like John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, as well as longtime friend and collaborator pianist Larry Young, Shaw developed an extremely original conception for how to improvise and compose jazz. Beginning with 1974's The Moontrane and moving through 1975's Love Dance, 1976's Concert Ensemble Live at the Berliner Jazztage, 1976's Little Red's Fantasy, and 1977's Iron Men, the box set showcases Shaw's mastery of the wide harmonic intervals and pentatonic scale developments he'd imbibed from his musical compatriots, as well as his love of the avant-garde -- both classical and jazz. In that way, these '70s albums are the bridge between the hard bop of the '60s and the free jazz of the '70s.
In truth, Shaw had come into his own much earlier as a member of both Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver's band in the 1960s, and in 1965 he recorded his first solo sessions for Blue Note, though they would go unpublished until 1983, when Muse released them on the album Cassandranite. Cassandranite was Shaw's reintroduction to Muse after leaving the label for a few productive years in the late '70s when he was signed to Columbia. Those works are similarly compiled on the 2011 box set The Complete Columbia Albums Collection. Shaw's '80s Muse albums -- 1985's Setting Standards, 1986's Solid, and 1987's Imagination -- found him returning to the swinging jazz standards of his youth, reinterpreting them with the increasingly unique approach offered by his age and experience. Shaw recorded all the albums included here at a time when being a landmark jazz musician was by no means a guarantee of fame or fortune. Though appreciated if not beloved by other musicians, Shaw has gone somewhat overlooked in the popular consciousness, and remains far from a household name. His tragic death in 1989 came right at the time of a resurgence in popularity for exactly Shaw's brand of exploratory post-bop jazz. While his passing left room for younger musicians -- all heavily indebted to his advancements -- to fill the void of his absence, this fact has seemed to buoy his legacy, while also veiling his importance. Thankfully, with Mosaic's The Complete Muse Sessions, Shaw's innovative voice and musical artistry have gotten the attention they so richly deserve.