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Saxophone Journal, January/February 2008

Beyond the Red Door

Beyond the Red Door
Bud Shank and Bill Mays

Bud Shank is like the Eveready Bunny, he just keeps going, and going, and going. He was absent the day they said you were supposed to slow down by the time you reached your 8th decade. Good thing for us he did not attend that boring lecture. In the past twenty or so years his playing has become more passionate, aggressive, and plainly more interesting than ever before. He knows no limits. He is willing to try anything from playing with a quartet, to having his own sextet (Silver Storm), to teaming up with another great alto player (Phil Woods), to fronting a big band, and playing in a duet setting with piano.

The latter is the setting for this recording with long-time friend, pianist Bill Mays. For the last several years the two "Silver Cats" have been doing concerts, clinics, and master classes together, thus a recording was the next logical step. Like any good team their playing is seamless, unencumbered, and very musical. They also swing their collective brains out.

The music comes from the standard and jazz standard library, with two originals by Shank and his wife Linda, and one Mays' original. The CD opens with the well known Zoot Sims/Gerry Mulligan opus, "The Red Door." The track begins with the duo playing through the changes of the tune in a happy counterpoint for two full choruses before the statement of the melody. After each of the cats plays a couple of solo choruses, they trade for several more fun filled choruses, first eights, fours and finally twos. This look behind the "Red Door" is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Probably two of the most beautiful and haunting ballads ever written are "The Wind" by Russ Freeman, and "The Peacocks" by Jimmy Rowles. Shank and Mays present these pieces in a medley that is just gorgeous. Shank has a way of crying through the horn, and he does so here in spades. Mays' rich voicings and lovely lines make you think you're listening to a complete orchestra. Each piece gets a complete rendering and then the two themes are combined for the last eight bars, proving once again that great minds do think alike.

Being curous by nature, "the cats" are always trying to find new ways to play well worn material; their arrangement of Ray Noble's "The Touch of Your Lips" fits the bill perfectly. While Shank plays the melody rubato, Mays plays the accompanying harmony on the strings of the piano, giving the tune a truly eerie quality. Once the team goes into time, all is right with the world; until the coda. Listen for Bud's verbal comment at the very end.

Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" gives Shank a chance to really play from the heart with beautifull Budness. The CD closes with "Where Or When" by Rogers & Hart, including the amost never heard verse. In the notes Bud Shank says, "I had never played the (tune) until a month before the recording. I couldn't understand why it always felt wrong. It has two ten bar phrases, and eight bar bridge, and a twelve bar last phrase. Another songwriting lesson from Mr. Rogers." Well be that as it may, Shank's got it together now. He and Mays again play some terrific counterpoint, one lyrical line following another. They make it sound so easy. Yeah, right!


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