One of the top alto sax players of all time, Phil Woods cut plenty of serious bop tracks, as well as more experimental fare, but he also had no problem heading into pop areas as well. “Round Trip” is a good example of one of his more pop efforts, but don’t think of this album as lightweight, instead, there is plenty of artistry and creativity at work in the orchestrations, which are topped by Phil’s always brilliant playing. As is the case in any genre of music, there are bad pop jazz albums, and there are good ones, and this is definitely one of the latter. What we have on here are eleven short energetic tracks, about half are Woods originals, with the rest including some lesser played standards and covers of some of the more interesting pop tunes of the day. Artsy ambitious pop was the order of the day back in 1969, with groups like the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel raising the bar on what could be contained in a radio friendly song, and those ambitions are reflected in Phil’s orchestrations and arrangements on “Round Trip”.
No doubt Phil’s time with the Quincy Jones orchestra is in evidence with these smart punchy arrangements, but you can also hear the influence of the hippiefied progressive big band music of Don Ellis too. This is very much a late 60s creation, bursting with the sort of optimism that defined much music during that time. The songs are short and to the point, and likewise Phil’s solos are short too, but still transcendent. Phil is just about the only soloist on here, with the exception of one short piano solo, and a brief sax battle with Jerry Dodgion. Unfortunately there are no other musician credits on here except Johnny Pate.
Phil Woods recently passed on, but before he left us, he played one last concert, a re-creation of the famous “Charlie Parker with Strings” album. No doubt that album was a favorite of Woods. Listening to Phil’s extensive use of strings on here makes you wonder if “Round Trip” was possibly Phil’s 60s style tribute to Parker’s pop side.