Herbie Mann and Phil Woods: Beyond Brooklyn

Tim O'Neil

Herbie Mann and Phil Woods

Beyond Brooklyn

Label: MCG Jazz
US Release Date: 2004-07-27
UK Release Date: 2004-08-30

In 1951, Herbie Mann and Phil Woods played together for the first time, at a Brooklyn club called Tony's Bar. Surprisingly, given the similar trajectories of their careers, this recording marks the first time the jazz legends have played together since the post-war period.

Back in the early '50s, when Mann and Woods were making their bones at Tony's, harmonic modality was the big thing. Although the intervening years have seen them stray in many different directions (Mann even recorded three disco albums in the 1970s), Beyond Brooklyn sees them returning, at least thematically, to the sounds of their youth.

Of course, modality is no longer the heady political statement it once was. There was a time when any overt or implicit rejection of the traditional Western approach to the chromatic scale formula was seen as a radical departure. But in the intervening years, the technical advancements that underlie modal paradigm shifts such as Miles Davis's Kind of Blue have successfully been absorbed into the mainstream musical establishment. Nowadays, it's the rare critic who will even register what kind of scale the latest pop gem utilizes, and in terms of the avant garde, it's the even more rare free jazz or IDM composer who would dream of composing with anything so gauche as actual notes.

Beyond Brooklyn has the cozy feel of an epilogue, a feeling which is abetted by the unfortunate knowledge that Mann passed away from prostate cancer in July of 2003. These recordings were made in the months before his death, with one final track, "Time After Time", recorded scant weeks before.

The opening number, "We Will Meet Again", is set to a sly bossa nova shuffle that recalls Mann's lifelong fascination with Latin rhythmical forms. Both Mann's flute and Wood's alto saxophone are in fine lyrical form, and the two disparate instruments make a cohesive harmonic unit.

"Alvin G" is a boisterous workout, both soloists taking full advantage of the rhythm section's cool bedrock. In particular, Mann's playful interplay with Alain Mallet's whimsical piano is excellent. Duke Ellington's "Azure" receives the royal treatment, with Woods switching from sax to clarinet in order deliver the song's moody swoon.

"Bohemia After Dark" is a bop throwback featuring an extended sparring match between Woods and Mann. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Caminhos Cruzados" is another bossa nova number, with the sparse and vital evocation of languid and lilting tension.

From Jobim to Charlie Parker, the band switches gears again for another hard bop workout with "Au Private", featuring gratifyingly extended solos by support staff Mallet and Roger Humphries on drums. "Another Shade of Blues" introduces Gil Goldstein on the accordion as the group shuffles into a lazy tango. Woods returns to the clarinet for an especially sly and seductive solo.

"Blood Count", towards the end of the album, introduces a note of mournful regret accentuated by Mann's conspicuous absence. On an album of dueling solos, the presence of Woods's unaccompanied saxophone can't help but seem melancholy. Before the album rings it's last, however, "Little Niles" is a surprisingly spry modal set piece with a slight garnish of dissonant fusion, providing just enough friction to inspire the album's most deliciously tortured work from both Mann and Woods.

Beyond Brooklyn will be remembered as the last testament of one of modern music's great unsung craftsmen. The flute is perhaps the most under-appreciated instrument in the modern jazz canon, and few did as much to elevate the humble woodwind to major league status as Herbie Mann. It is fitting that his final recordings present the artist in full swing, playing with an ease and buoyancy that belied his age and illness. That he was gifted with such an able and simpatico partner as Woods for this workout is a great gift to jazz aficionados everywhere. It won't, perhaps, be remembered as a groundbreaking or revolutionary recording, but it should be remembered as a fitting final chapter in the life of a great musician.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.