It took saxophonist Willie Williams fourteen years to record a follow-up to his fourth release as a leader, WW3 (Enja, 1993). It is a shame, since the Philadelphia-born, New York-based 49 year-old Williams, a regular of T.S. Monk's band and veteran of drummer Arthur Taylor quintet and Mingus Dynasty, is a great performer and composer, with a great knowledge of the hard and post-bop vocabularies. Fortunately Williams found vibraphonist Mark Sherman's newly founded Miles High Records, a label eager to document this trioWilliams on tenor and soprano saxophones, bassist Gary Wang and drummer Rudy Walkerhot and ready just after completing a European tour.
The opener, "Comet Ride," demonstrates this trio raison d'êtreswing hard and fast, and sing loud through the chord changes. The track highlights the close affinity between the three players, who keep feeding each other until the inevitable climax. The somber "Tenor Ballet" follows, based on a counterpoint exercise and featuring the Wang's elegant and reserved arco playing, which adds a dream-like quality to the piece.
Williams and Wang continue with similar interplay as they introduce "I'm Misunderstood," a beautiful and soulful blues, with another well-articulated solo from Wang. The spontaneous improvisation, "Three Generations," begins with careful exploration before Williams and Wang begin to push forward and outside, while Walker lays down a clever series of accents. "Leprechaun's Dance" is built on a series of fast changes played tightly by Wang and Walker, setting Williams up to pursue a Celtic-flavored soprano solo.
"Changes of Heart" demonstrates Williams' more aggressive side, as he improvises on a more complex set of changes, while Wang and Walker deliver a steady and tight beat. The most impressive piece is the fifteen-minute arrangement of "Freedom Suite," a medley from sax legends Eddie Harris ("Freedom Jazz Dance") and Jimmy Heath ("Gingerbread Boy," "C.T.A,"). It's also a heartfelt homage to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, as Williams plays both saxophones at once during the introduction and reprise of "Freedom Jazz Dance," enabling him to deliver some brilliant work, but also leading the trio through focused playing based on groove and hard, uncompromising swing.
Williams' "Mo' Grits," his dedication to the Southern corn porridge, is a light and simple piece featuring Walker as a master of swinging rhythms. Williams rearranges "Philly Syndrome," based on several rhythm changes, from his first release House Calls (New Note, 1988). It refers to his inner conflict as he left the cozy and supportive Philadelphia for the more competitive and alienated but ultimately more rewarding New York scene.
Williams concludes this impressive 75-minute odyssey with a well thought-out arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Caravan," a drum showcase that feature Walker as he beautifully layers a series of African rhythms and leads the trio. Williams adds the seldom-heard vocal bridge to this arrangement, lending a more swinging quality to this classic standard.
Personnel: Willie Williams: tenor and soprano saxophones; Gary Wang: bass; Rudy Walker: drums.