Jazz CD of the Month: Phil Woods & The Festival Orchestra / New Celebration / Chiaroscuro Records

Nov 1, 2013

Phil Woods’ soulful brilliance glows everywhere you turn in this 2013 release from Chiaroscuro Records . His soloing on alto, his compositions and arrangements sparkle throughout, enhanced by a fine array of soloists hailing from parts of the U.S. east. But, be warned; listening to it all at one sitting could diminish the effect.  It’s like trying to consume too many slices of a superb and rich birthday cake when the party’s just started. Don’t take in too many pieces at once. Savor the flavor gradually.

Titled “New Celebration” it calls attention to the latest personification of the COTA Festival Orchestra founded in 1992 and based in Phil’s home territory, Eastern Pennsylvania’s inspiring Pocono Mountain region where the Delaware River flows onward in beauty. COTA stands for Celebration of the Arts. Here the orchestra’s name is shortened to The Festival Orchestra

And, wonderfully, four compositions celebrate immortal jazz artists, Hank Jones, Art Pepper, Hank D’Amico and Al Cohn. Phil,  moreover, cleverly spins-off three well-known tunes that have become jazz standards, “Out of Nowhere,” “After You’ve Gone,” and Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings,” which become “And It Was Nowhere,” “Before I Left,” and, most amusingly, “Shiny Pants.”    

Phil was just 25 when he first recorded with Hank and Al during 1956 concerts, called “The Birdland Stars on Tour” and they became life-long friends.” Hank was 43 back then and Al was 31. The least known dedicatee is clarinetist Hank D’Amico, likewise a close friend.

The salutes to Jones (titled “Hank Jones”) and D’Amico (“Ballad for Hank”) sound gentle and tender but never mournful, with the second of those so lovely that it could be a setting for dancing close, holding on to someone you love. Jay Rattman’s sweet clarinet in that number enriches that.

Further, Rattman contributes a jumping baritone solo in “Before I Left” where, sequentially, Bob Keller, Matt Vashlishan, Phil and Nelson Hill leave lingering impressions on altos as does Tom Hamilton’s tenor. Hamilton and Keller, both on tenor, solidly follow in Al Cohn’s swinging gait in Johnny Mandel’s “Here’s To Alvy.”   Moreover, Rattman, again on clarinet, comes up with intricate beauty in a soulful take on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” featuring a convincingly sorrowful singing of that ballad by Najwa Parkins.   

Trumpet player Chris Persad consistently impresses in a Dizzy Gillespie frame of mind during Phil’s “Bop’n Bob Don’t Stop” wherein comes a quote from Charlie Parker’s enduring flight of fancy “Ornithology.” Elsewhere Persad contributes a friendly glow to “Shiny Pants” which sounds like Phil’s arranging has quotes of few riffs from Foster’s classic. On piano, Skip Wilkins flows with grace, honoring Hank Jones’ keyboard eloquence in Phil’s eponymous item. And Wilkins provides bossa nova spice to “Goodbye Mr. Pepper,” which has another memorable example of Persad’s bopness  on mellow flugelhorn.   

I don’t know if I’ve made it clear enough that Phil’s solos throughout remain dynamic wonders, full of catchy, compelling energy and invention. Those words also characterize the complete experience. Cause indeed to celebrate.