IN AN ERA when jazz bands change membership more often than a Dupont Circle group house, the Phil Woods Quintet is an admirable model of stability. The alto saxophonist has worked with drummer Bill Goodwin and bassist Steve Gilmore for 12 years now; with pianist Hal Galper for five years, and with trumpeter Tom Harrell for two. Their rapport is obvious on the quintet's exceptional recent album, "Heaven."
Woods is one of those rare hornmen who can play not only with extreme agility and speed but also with a distinctly personal sound. Horace Silver alum Harrel is the rare player who can match him in both areas. Throughout this album, Harrel stays at Woods' heels, creating variations on the leaders' solos and shadowing Woods' lines on exhilarating duet passages. As always, the rhythm section swings impeccably.
The band stretches out its considerable imagination within the extended post-bop frameworks of Harrel's "Occurrence" and Sam Rivers' "222." But the pieces that make this one of the best albums of Woods' long career are two Ellington ballads: "Heaven" and, especially, "Azure." Woods switches to clarinet and uses his glowing tone as the foundation for the band's hymnlike harmonies. PHIL WOODS -- "Heaven" (Blackhawk BKH 50401-1 D). Appearing Friday and Saturday at One Step Down.