by Willard Manus
At 83, Phil Woods remains the consummate jazz musician. Not only a great sax player but a prolific composer and arranger, he continues to work with unflagging energy and creativity. For evidence, just give a listen to PHIL WOODS & THE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA, a big-band extravaganza featuring ten swinging tracks, eight of which are originals specifically written for the record date by Woods.
Fronting an 18-person orchestra, Woods gives his cohorts lots of room to show off their musical chops in a variety of ways, whether driving hard in unison fashion or taking lyrical, deeply-felt solos. Throughout, the all-star ensemble reinvigorates the big-band form by playing at a consistently high level, spurred on by Woods' inspired charts--and by his nimble and joyful soloing.
There isn't a weak track on this disc, but among the highlights are Bop'n Bob Don't Stop, an explosion of fiery and funky jazz, and Get Bird's Word, a warm, sax-oriented tribute to the legacy of Charlie Parker. Woods' homages to Hank Jones, Art Pepper and Hank D'Amico are also moving and noteworthy compositions.
The one vocal, by Najwa Parkins, of You Don't Know What Love Is, shows off the dark, bluesy side of the Festival Orchestra, led by Ray Rattman on clarinet.