Bob Lark and Phil Woods

Today on Marc Myer’s JazzWax: By my count, trumpeter and flugelhornist Bob Lark and alto saxophonist Phil Woods recorded six albums together prior to Woods’ death in 2015. Their sixth and final collaboration, Thick as Thieves, recorded in 2009 at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase, has just been released. It’s a solid swinger, despite my initial trepidation over the predictable song choices. What keeps this album from being predictable is the quintet’s ability to breathe fresh fire into bop standards you may not feel you needed to hear again. Lark’s two originals also are fresh and dynamic. Backing Lark and Woods are pianist Jim McNeely, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin—a superb trio that stirs up both artists.

The Lark-Woods collaboration dates back to 2004, when Lark, then director of the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, phoned Woods to see if he’d be interested in performing and recording live at the Jazz Showcase. Woods agreed and their first album together with the big band was Woodlands (2004). Then Lark and Woods recorded In Her Eyes (2005), Swingchronicity (2006), Live at the Showcase (2006), Reflections (2008) with saxophonist Mark Colby, and Thick as Thieves (2009). Meanwhile, Woods became a regular at DePaul University’s jazz performances and clinics.

Lark, who now is chair of the jazz studies program at DePaul, plays beautifully on this new release, which features his flugelhorn throughout. The same is true for pianist Jim McNeely, who catches the ear and amazes on every track, most notably on Lark’s First Steps. The other tracks are Yardbird Suite, I Love You, Rhythm-a-Ning, All the Things You Are, Lark’s Winter’s Touch and Billie’s Bounce.

The group’s tightness and lyricism are truly astonishing. The entire album swings from the very first track, and many of the familiar songs seem new as a result. The quintet clearly is aware they have to work a little harder to make the well-known material arresting, and they do so with gusto by reinventing the songs and avoiding cliches. As with the other Lark-Woods recordings, this one is a gem. Woods outdoes himself with edgy aggression, and he’s complemented by Lark’s strong tone and forceful lines. McNeely’s stirring piano can’t be ignored.

Thick as Thieves is worth the listen just for the 13:49 All the Things You Are.

JazzWax tracks: You’ll find the Bob Lark/Phil Woods Quintet’s Thick as Thieves (Jazzed Media) here.

It’s also available at Spotify.

JazzWax interview: You’ll find my complete interview with Phil Woods here.

JazzWax clip: Here’s Bob Lark’s First Steps

by Marc Myer via JazzWax