Phil Woods has played professionally since the early 50s, and he is rightly considered as one of the great jazz improvisers. His composition-like improvisations and pure sound were a hallmark of his early style (hear his astonishing chorus on Quincy Jones’ “A Sleepin’ Bee”), but as he has aged, his sound has coarsened and he has let his vibrato widen. I’ve heard some mighty unmusical sounds from Woods’ horn in recent years, but on his new duet CD with pianist Bill Mays, “Phil & Bill” (Palmetto 2150), he uses that raw sound to reveal an emotional intensity rarely heard in his work. Mays has several duet albums in his discography (including an unjustly rare LP with Bobby Shew), and he has an uncanny ability to create a full piano sound even when improvising in single lines. There are abundant standards in the track list, both obscure (Richard Rodgers’ “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” from “Cinderella” and David Rose’s “Our Waltz”) and well-known (a lovely rendition of Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?” with Mays’ superb interpretation of the verse, and a 5/4 version of “I’m All Smiles”). Woods’ two originals are both dedicated to recently passed jazz musicians. “Blues For Lopes” is a gritty, angular blues that memorializes Joe Lopes, a childhood friend who later played in the New York and Los Angeles studios and was a founding member of Supersax. “Hank Jones” reflects the elegance of its subject in its long melody line and graceful improvisations. I doubt that I’ve ever heard a more anguished cry from Woods’ horn than on the Al Cohn ballad “Danielle”. The song seems to bring out deep emotions from the saxophonist and although there are no liner notes included in the CD package, the music speaks volumes on its own.