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Songwriter and pianist William Odell (Bill) Hollis passed away three years ago leaving behind a legacy of 175 original tunes. Best of Bill Hollis on the Blujazz label collects eight of these from two different sessions from 1983 and 1985. The former is recorded with a trio in Bristol, Pennsylvania and the latter with a quartet in Manahawkin, New Jersey.
A suave musician, Hollis plays with deceptively simple elegance making each note count. The unabashedly romantic "Love Will Bloom" for example is built upon effervescent trio refrains and vamps. His percussive chords delightfully embellish the melody while tastefully eschewing syrupiness. "Lovers Again," on the other hand, is a gently undulating ballad as Hollis' shimmering piano lines contrast with the dark rumble of bass and drums. This track and the playful, sparkling "Jennifer My Love" also feature his smooth, buttery baritone singing (he also penned the lyrics).
The full breadth of Hollis' pianism, however, is best heard on "Passionate Moon" that starts with a classically influenced unaccompanied nocturne and evolves into a loosely swinging blues with beautifully flowing arpeggios and soulful ostinato patterns. Bassist Sam Tart takes a lyrical solo with drummer Lindy Ewell's intricate brush work in support.
Tart's earthy bass work marks the toe tapping trio workout "St Francis," while his conversational lines adorn the Latin-esque "Deshazor" as saxophonist Ellsworth Gooding's gritty and ardent tenor plays the theme with fervor and intensity. Known for his work on guitarist Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones's final album Sweetback (Luv N' Haight, 1975) Gooding lets his spirited thick tone bounce off Hollis' cascade of notes, Tart's dulcet string work and Ewell's reserved and agile beats on the vivacious ballad "All About Faye." On the funky, R&B- ish "LaTonya," meanwhile, he adopts a more laid back, lounge sound.
This enjoyable and refreshing compilation sheds much deserved attention on an unjustly obscured master musician. Although the pieces are short on improvisational rigor and do not demand a high level of intellectual engagement, they are, nevertheless, quite charming and entertaining even after several spins.
Track Listing: All About Faye; Jennifer My Love; Deshazor; Sir Francis; La Tonya; Love
Will Bloom; Lovers
Again; Passionate Moon.
Personnel: Bill Hollis: piano; Sam Tart: bass; Lindy Ewell: drums; Ellsworth
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.