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Here’s yet more astonishing music performed live at Baltimore’s venerable Left Bank Jazz Society. The quintet led by drummer Roy Brooks played as if their lives depended on it for the crowd at the Famous Ballroom in November 1970, and the music on this double CD is as exciting as jazz gets.
Everyone was “on,” but trumpeter Woody Shaw was really having a night. His tone sharpened to a gleaming edge, he strings phrases of outrageously wide intervallic leaps and burning-hot high notes that plunge to earth with blues licks, then shoot skyward again, pushing higher and higher each time. His solos on the title track and on “Zoltan” are highlights.
Tenor saxophonist Carlos Garnett sports a soaring, airy texture in the upper register that sends his solos into the stratosphere in smooth, tightly coiling runs that are swift and graceful. He takes “Billie’s Bounce” into inside/outside territory that Charlie Parker never dreamed of. In the rhythm section, no one plays a note that pianist Harold Mabern isn’t all over, fleshing out harmonies and relentlessly goading his bandmates. Brooks keeps up a constant elevated chatter, driving the band with sheer power and leaving no option for anyone to slack off. Cecil McBee provides a steady harmonic/rhythmic anchor; he’s a warm, dark presence in a music that is all brilliant scintillations of color and boiling rhythm.
The quintet never lets up and it would be simply exhausting instead of exhilarating if they didn’t match the energy level with substantial ideas, variegated colors and textures, and close listening that channels the physical exuberance into high art. — Ed Hazell