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Bemsha Swing (1986)

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Robert Hurst

Woody Shaw's premature and tragic death in 1989 robbed the jazz world of one of its most important trumpeters. Despite worsening health and terrible eyesight, he was still in very good playing form in 1986 when he performed the music (recorded at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit) that resulted in this previously unissued double-CD from 1997. Pianist Geri Allen was already a young giant at the time, sounding quite original with touches of Herbie Nichols in her voicings, and bassist Robert Hurst was just starting to become known, while veteran drummer Roy Brooks (who recorded the date) was a familiar name. The adventurous post-bop music includes three of Thelonious Monk's more joyful tunes, the standard "Star Eyes," two Shaw pieces ("Ginseng People" and "In a Capricornian Way"), and an original by Wayne Shorter. Allen's "Eric" and Brooks' "Theloniously Speaking" serve as features for the rhythm section. Although one would not associate Shaw with Allen, they prove a mutually inspiring team. There is no feeling of decline or even world-weariness in the trumpeter's playing, and his solos are full of constant invention and enthusiastic ideas. This highly recommended set was one of Woody Shaw's last great recordings. ~ Scott Yanow