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Bob Lark and Phil Woods

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By my count, trumpeter and flugelhornist Bob Lark and alto saxophonist Phil Woods have recorded six albums together prior to Woods' death in 2015. Their final collaboration, Thick as Thieves, recorded in 2009 at Chicago's Jazz Showcase, was just released. It's a solid swinger, despite my initial trepidation over the predictable song choices. What keeps the album from being predictable is the quintet's ability to breathe fresh fire into bop standards you may not feel you need to hear again. Backing Lark and Woods are pianist Jim McNeely, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin, a superb trio that lays down thick slabs of motivation and muscle.

The Lark-Woods collaboration dates back to 2004, when Lark, director of the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble at the time, phoned Woods to see if he'd be interested in performing live at the Jazz Showcase. Woods agreed and their first album together with the big band was Woodlands (2004). Since 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 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 shines 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 is truly astonishing. The entire album swings from the first track, and it's as if you're hearing these songs for the first time. The quintet clearly is aware they have to work a little harder to make this material interesting, 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 on each and every track, and he's complemented by Lark's strong tone and imaginative lines, and McNeely's drive.

Thick as Thieves is worth buying for the 13:49 All the Things You Are alone.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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