Phil Woods

Plays the Music of Jim McNeely

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Jim McNeely is well-known for his stellar big-band writing, but this album affords the pleasure of hearing his compositions in a small-group setting. And not just any small group, but the Phil Woods Quintet, among the tightest and most road-hardened post-bop units in existence. McNeely occupied the band's piano chair through much of the '90s. While he's the man of the hour in terms of this album's content, no special effort is made to single out his piano presence. He usually solos third in the rotation, after altoist/leader Woods and trumpeter Brian Lynch, although both horn players take a break on the penultimate track, a beautiful trio feature titled "New Waltz." This track also features bassist Steve Gilmore's only solo of the set. (Drummer Bill Goodwin doubled as producer, as is often the case on Woods' records.) McNeely's compositions are by no means simple, but they're never abstract or inaccessible. They tend to have long forms, with vamp-like modal sections and busier strings of boppish chord changes alternating to create tension and release. These are exactly the kind of charts to suit the Phil Woods Quintet, with its rhythmic drive and uncanny ability to sound like a little big band. Every tune is a winner, but standouts include the opening track "A Perfect Six," which would later appear on McNeely's 2001 effort Group Therapy in an arrangement for ten-piece band, and the closing track "Don't Even Ask," which begins with a sharp-edged bass/alto unison line and then blossoms continually over the course of 11-plus minutes.

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