Jazz veteran Phil Woods began his second number at Blues Alley Monday night with an unaccompanied alto sax solo that tenderly caressed the melody for the standard "My Old Flame." Having solidly established the tune, Woods quickly went to work to subvert it. As the band joined the ballad, Woods and drummer Bill Goodwin periodically interrupted the romantic flow with sudden eruptions of saxophone tangents and rim-shot combinations. The arrangement became more and more aggressive -- Woods and pianist Hal Galper played a brisk zigzag figure in unison -- until the music was transformed into Randy Weston's post-bop piece "Little Niles."
Woods is 58 and noticeably pudgy these days, and he seemed inclined to coast at times Monday night. Nonetheless, when he roused himself -- as on the medley described above -- his old lyricism and imagination were obviously intact.
It helped that Woods's quartet is one of the most stable ensembles in jazz today (Galper has been with Woods 10 years now; Goodwin and bassist Steve Gilmore have been with him for 18), and they played unison sections with a rare rapport. Goodwin in particular shone as he used his whole kit to incorporate quirky rhythmic accents into his propulsive swing, especially on the Latin-flavored arrangement of Neal Hefti's "Repetition."