Byron Morris and Unity
For the third tune Morris introduced “A Wheel Within a Wheel,” a tune by fellow altoist Bobby Watson, a killer alto player in his own right who is known by many for his work with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the late 70s and early 80s. I immediately sprung to the edge of my chair knowing Watson’s music to be extremely intriguing and fun. My gut hunch proved to be correct for this tune was easily the best one of the night. Morris showed homage to Watson by leading out with an inspired alto solo followed by Gordon and an impassioned solo by Allen who played with Watson in the 80s in Charlie Persip’s Superband. Summey hinted at a 2 feel on top of the tune’s ¾ meter with brushes as Allen further contributed to the song with a spur of the moment collective improv section. The noise was “off the hook”, to use the parlance of our times. The band built its energy to a climatic point with much help from Summey and the rhythm section slowly bringing back the head.
The set closed with another Hubbard original “Sky Dive.” As before Ruiz’ contributions were priceless to the band’s feel while also entirely connected to Summey’s rhythmic figures, which also pushed Allen and Gordon to their upper limits.
At first my instincts told me that Byron Morris was a dilettante; a wannabe musician with little chops. But it later occurred to me that what he does is extremely important for the music and the musicians. He is keeping a tradition alive while employing some of the best talent the region has to offer. The songs that the band plays are not necessarily well known and thus they expose the works of jazz masters like Hubbard, Watson, and Henderson to a wider audience. And while Morris is no virtuoso, his task is a noble one which should be supported and continued for years to come.
Unity’s latest CD, Y2K, is available at Amazon.com and features all those on the Blues Alley gig minus Gordon. Gerald Pennington is the trombonist instead.