Phil Woods | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Along with his contemporary Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods essentially defined the alto saxophone in jazz after Charlie Parker's death in 1955; over the succeeding four decades he has honed one of the most personal and recognizable styles in all of jazz. It resembles a language all its own, marked by distinctive idiomatic expressions--the equivalent of spoken slang--that occur within the complex grammar and syntax of bebop. And these phrases reach the ear via Woods's arresting tone: polished but heavily textured, and filled with vocally inflected devices of an earlier era. (Such devices remind us that Woods found his first inspiration in the swing-era alto giants Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges.) At 63, Woods has survived enough of his contemporaries to attain the rank of "elder statesman." He doesn't like to think in those terms, and indeed, the rest of us can easily lose sight of his hard-won musical stature: year after year, his band retains its power and vitality, and if Woods himself sounds older than he did four decades ago, it has to do with the ever-deepening wisdom that tempers his still-brash virtuosity. Woods has sublimated his own soloing in deference to the demands of his quintet, a band remarkable for its unusual longevity (its core personnel has remained intact since 1973). These days the group has a distinctly midwestern flavor, with former Chicagoan Jim McNeely on piano and the marvelous Milwaukee-born trumpeter Brian Lynch. A veteran of the classic hard-bop classrooms directed by Horace Silver and Art Blakey, Lynch extends the hallowed trumpet tradition established by fellow Blakey alumni Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Friday through Sunday, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

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