Woody Shaw - Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard

Woody Shaw
Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard


First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2005, Volume 12, #8

Written by John Metzger


For all of the artists whose talent has garnered them fame and fortune, there are countless others who have spent their careers toiling in relative obscurity. Despite performing with the likes of Art Blakey and Max Roach and earning a reputation among his peers as one of the most respected trumpeters to come into his own during the 1970s, Woody Shaw remains something considerably less than a household name. Given that the basis of his material was a union of the hard bop of the late ’50s with the avant garde movement that dominated the ’60s, it didn’t help that he had reached his pinnacle as a bandleader at a time when the jazz world’s popular sect was focused upon a newfangled strain of music known as fusion. That’s not to say that Shaw shied away from embracing some of the more fashionable textures of his time. In fact, his employment of keyboard player Onaje Allan Gumbs provided a fusion-oriented ambience to numerous moments scattered throughout his stellar 1978 set Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard. In skipping seamlessly from one style to the next, the title track itself provides a perfect example of this logical extension of the past by effectively demonstrating how one adventurous subset of jazz begat the next.

Nevertheless, the roots of much of Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard were definitely anchored within an earlier period of time. Indeed, the give-and-take between Shaw and saxophonist Carter Jefferson on In a Capricornian Way recalls the similar alchemical interplay between Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and throughout its furiously churning groove, Gumbs miraculously managed to find ways to interject into the proceedings the combined essence of McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans. A similar updating of history occurs during the heartbreaking beauty of All Things Being Equal Are Not, the first of a trio of bonus selections that augment the album’s debut on CD. Despite the many accomplishments of his band, however — and Clint Houston’s bass solo on Blues for Ball is definitely a highlight — it’s Shaw’s spectacular contributions on coronet and fluegelhorn that drive the material towards transcendence. Indeed, as his ensemble delivers its frequently breakneck rhythms, he effortlessly alternates between fueling the tension and dissipating it, and it is precisely this delightful dance that makes Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard such a memorable effort. starstarstar ˝

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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