Juli Wood Trio @ The Jazz Estate
March 23, 2017
Juli Wood has indubitably played for larger crowds than the throng who showed up for her set Thursday evening at the Jazz Estate. Gladly for those in attendance, the size of the audience didn’t dictate the passion the former Milwaukeean brought to employing her saxophone and voice.
Though she has been residing in Chicago for a while now, Wood appeared happy to be back in her old home town, where she had played with local luminaries including Victor DeLorenzo and Paul Cebar. Among the reasons for her good mood was her venue for the evening, as she complimented the Estate’s recently refurbished, classily appointed digs.
Doubtless also abetting her seemingly blissful mood was that she was heading a trio adept at complementing and expanding upon her lead. She forged her group’s way through sets comprised of iterations of repertoire from some of her inspirational figures from the pantheon of late jazz greats.
Her heroes may be among the departed, but Wood resurrected their musical essences back with some hot, dexterous bop fingering and blowing on her tenor instrument. As for the instrument residing in her larynx, her singing never diverged far from the compositions’ melodies, but lent emotional breadth to material generally given to the highs of being in love and recovery from disappointment in it.
Fellow saxophonists such as Dexter Gordon and Jackie McLean were among the artists Wood gleaned from, but she also dipped from the rich catalogs of pianists Kenny Drew and Thelonious Monk. One of the night’s vocal highlights was her reading of Carmen McRae’s infusion of lyrics to Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.”
Especially sympathetic to the direction his boss for the night took the music was double bassist Doug Hayes. His melodic and rhythmic explorations on the precedents set forth by Wood were as memorable as her own. Hayes’ judicious use of bowing was especially effective in response to Wood’s singing and playing as well.
Drummer Mike Schlick, a frequent collaborator on the four albums Wood has issued as a bandleader, is neither any kind of slouch. Instances where he and Wood traded measures of four between her sax and his kit were brisk and taut. His use of brushes on the few numbers he opted for them over sticks, especially on cymbals, lent a buoyant momentum to the ensemble. He did, however, have something of a tendency to crowd his way into soundscapes that may have been better left airier. Considering all the work they’ve done together, Wood obviously appreciates Schlick, but at least in concert, she may be sacrificing some of her own shine to allow him to showboat a mite.
That was, however, a relatively minor glitch in an evening of solid interpretations from Wood and her accompanists. A bigger city about an hour south may now be her home, but Juli Wood should still continue to be well received in the town where she planted her musical roots.