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from Cadence, January/February/March 2008

Beyond the Red Door

Bud Shank and Bill Mays
Beyond the Red Door

Contemporaneous altoists of "West Coast" lineage.

Not exactly your grandfathers's Bud Shank, whose "cool tones" were thought to be "the epitome of West Coast Jazz" in the 50s. Shank, who turned 80 the month he recorded this set with Bill Mays, is no longer to be considered California "cool." His tone is darker now, full of burr-ish bite, halfway between an affectionate growl and a sough of pleasure. He scrapes notes from the musty bottom of his horn and playswith an almost mournful ("Not Now?") passion. The power of his playing gives the lie to the idea that age necessarily saps a human's creative and emotional resources. Both he and pianist Mays are supreme melodists and they herewith turn four standards ("Touch/Porgy/Everything/Where") Inside out and upside down, exploring, probing, discovering new ways to travel familiar terrain. One of the two, exultant after they had tunneled deep into the swell of "Touch's" euphonology, only to emerge, after almost ten minutes, into a blaze of coruscating light on the other side, declares triumphantly, "Take that, Ray Noble!" and laughs maniacally. (Yes, Aunt Agatha, Ray Noble composed it!) It's a bearthtaking track, on which, at the beginning and end, Bill Mays reaches into his instrument and strums some strings with, as Shank explains in his liner notes, "little tools he designed."

Bill Mays, a mere 62 years old at the time of this session, is a full partner in these improvisational designs. He is not merely accompanying Shank, but staging his own little forages toward daylight. It almost seems as though they lose sight of one another at odd moments, but then their paths unexpectedly converge and their meeting has all to do with the recognition they had the same destination in mind. "Door" contains some scorching alto and spiky piano. Shank credits both Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan for the tune. "Wind/Peacocks" is a lovely medly of the Russ Freeman and Jimmy Rowles tunes. Shank makes this "Wind" and unexpectedly homeothemic one. Mays rhaps (sic) rhapsodic on his own "Quietly," and the remaining tracts ("Not Now?/Carousels") are origianls written by Shank and his wife, Linda, whose lyrics are absent on this all-instrumental date. Not the first time Bud Shank and Bill Mays have recorded together, but the first time the result has been an authentic tour de force.

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