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Bruce Williams: Altoicity

David A. Orthmann By

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The music on Bruce Williams’ Altoicity covers a variety of jazz styles from the past 60 years. Along with his front line partner, trumpeter Russell Gunn, and the formidable support of pianist Marc Cary, bassist Gerald Cannon, and drummer Cecil Brooks III (who doubles as the disc’s producer), the alto saxophonist displays his fluency in frameworks ranging from bebop to free jazz. Williams plays with a maturity that enables him to put his personal stamp on every track.

A hip, knowing version of Miles Davis’ classic, “Half Nelson,” is taken at a tempo just slow enough that one can savor every note of the melody. Brooks displays some intricate brushwork, Williams’ playing recalls Bird at his most soulful, and Gunn constructs a very convincing solo in only one chorus. Williams demonstrates a mastery of the ballad form on two cuts, his own composition “Nora,” and Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” which is done in a duet with Cary.

The harder side of the bop idiom is represented by Williams’ tunes “Downsizing,” and “Three Crows On Guard,” in which Brooks kicks up a storm behind the altoist’s artful mixture of short and long phrases. Throughout both of these cuts, I wondered what the leader and Gunn would sound like without the restraints of a pianist—even one as capable as Cary. The answer is in “Elijah Blue” (dedicated to Williams’ son), where the band is influenced by the early sixties, pianoless sound of the Ornette Coleman Quartet. The improvisation begins with the two horns playfully trading overlapping phrases, which evolves into pithy turns by Gunn, Williams, and Cannon. Brooks’ hard-driving rhythms are precise and uncluttered.

The disc ends with “Empty Hearts,” a brief, devotional-sounding, free jazz anthem reminiscent of the later work of John Coltrane. Here too, Williams sounds completely in his element. With this and the rest of Altoicity in mind, I look forward to hearing the future chapters of his musical development.

Track List:Tangerine; You Are So Beautiful; Nora; Downsizing; East of the Sun; Sophisticated Lady; Three Crows On Guard; Half Nelson; Pot Liquor; Elijah Blue; Empty Hearts.


Personnel: Bruce Williams

Title: Altoicity | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Savant Records


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