If you haven't noticed the tiny 32 Jazz re-issue label until now, take note. What Joel Dorn at 32 Jazz has been doing so well is rediscovering vital music that was largely ignored at its creation but which has the contemporary muscle to go head to head with any of the current mainstay of today's mainstream. While fusion was funking up the jazz charts of the seventies, artists like Sonny Stitt and Woody Shaw were carrying the torch for the advances of bop.
Though this is latter day Stitt (no recording dates are given), it’s the cream off the top and an excellent overview of the firey bop player best known for his collaborations with Miles and Dizzy. Stitt’s technical dexterity was never questionable and he became known as the cutting giant, battling saxophonists throughout the fifties for top sheriff honors. In his later work, he often coasted, still playing astounding bebop runs but doing so without the emotional warmth that made him a giant.
Here we get a baker's dozen of quality Stitt on both alto and tenor (6 of one, 7 of the other) taken from 70’s Muse LPs and a pair of Cobblestones (the outstanding Tune Up and Constellation). All cuts represent Stitt in the trad quartet setting and though his biting sax with its graceful phrasing is the star here, there's a rich collection of sidemen in Barry Harris, George DuVivier, Junior Mance, Cedar Walton, Billy Higgins and Jimmy Cobb. Harris especially brings out the joy in Stitt and several of these cuts are exuberant bop studies.
Shaw's collection is as fine. A graduate of the Blakey school, Shaw stuck to his hard bop guns throughout the seventies and eighties and this set shows the wisdom inherent in the decision. The set covers twenty years of the under-rated trumpeter's career.
Beginning with his own composition "Cassandranite" - recorded in ‘65 with dream team Joe Henderson, Larry Young (on piano), Ron Carter and Joe Chambers - and extending to 1987's "Steve's Blues", the disc takes us on a wild ride through some of the brightest hard bop of the seventies and eighties. Shaw sputters and growls throughout and the head to head match-ups with then youngsters Steve Turre, Kenny Garrett and Rene McLean are fired with energy. There’s even a take on Andrew Hill’s "Symmetry" with Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams leaning to the center. It ends with a furious live version of Larry Young's "Obsequious" where Shaw steps back and lets saxophonists Frank Foster and Rene McLean have a generational stand-off from 1976.
Though both of these artists are gone, these two fine collections shine brightly as the timeless gems they are and rekindle their legacies. Top notch playing from the post-bop pool and. for the price ($8.99 per disc), it's well worth the plunge.