178

Larry Willis: Sanctuary & The Powers of Two

By

Sign in to view read count
Larry Willis
Sanctuary
Mapleshade Records
2003

Larry Willis, for too long a time unjustly under-recorded as a leader, happily has found a home as Mapleshade Records' music director for the past 12 years. The Maryland-based label has afforded the veteran New Yorker a multitude of opportunities to demonstrate his imposing talents as a pianist, composer, arranger and producer, but Sanctuary is easily the best of these efforts to date. The album of spiritually motivated music captures Willis at the height of his powers in a variety of situations that graciously draw the listener into his brilliantly conceived music.

The opening "The Maji," a cheerful composition for jazz quintet (featuring fellow Fort Apache members Joe Ford and Steve Berrios on saxophones and drums and DC veterans Ray Codrington and Steve Novosel on trumpet and bass) immediately makes clear the leader's considerable capability for creating memorable melodies in even the most conventional of settings. "Sanctuary" is a beautiful piece by Willis for trio and the ten-piece Rick Schmidt strings, adeptly arranged by Ford. The pianist masterfully arranged his own "Good Friday" for soprano sax with piano and strings to portray a mood that is mournful without being maudlin.

On "Brother Ed," Willis creatively crafts a satisfying new melody, featuring Ford's alto and Codrington's trumpet, utilizing the familiar chord changes from Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil." Sanctuary's centerpiece is the stirring orchestration by the leader of the traditional hymn "There Is A Balm Gilead" for piano, strings and the emotive tenor voice of Artie Sherman.

Codrington's "Thank You Lord," a "prayer without words," is another enjoyable outing for quintet, served well by Novosel's relaxed bass line and Berrios' compelling mallet on tom tom rhythm.

Willis displays his skill as a solo pianist on his three-movement arrangement of a gospel song from his youth, "Were You There." "Fallen Hero," the pianist's moving memorial to his late brother, featuring another of Ford's sensitive string arrangements, is a fitting finale to this poignant and affecting date.


Larry Willis/Paul Murphy
The Powers of Two
Mapleshade Records
2004

The Powers of Two is an extraordinary undertaking by Willis (who is joined on the session by longtime Jimmy Lyons drummer Paul Murphy). Comprised of eight spontaneously improvised duets, the date showcases his imposing but unpretentious virtuoso technique, as well as an amazing ability to build marvelously musical structures without the benefit of prepared material.

While the beautiful sound Willis coaxes from his instrument at times recalls McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor and Herbie Hancock, the eight tracks are all uniquely personal—worthy of compositional refinement and future exploration. Murphy proves to be a fine foil and at times a convincing creative catalyst, helping to inspire facets of Willis' talent that are all the more impressive considering their lack of prior documentation.


Sanctuary

Tracks: 1. The Maji (5:53); 2. Sanctuary (8:30); 3. Good Friday (4:10); 4. Brother Ed (6:11); 5. A Balm in Gilead (6:14); 6. Thank You, Lord (9:22); 7. Were You There? (6:31); 8. Fallen Hero (3:10).

Personnel: Steve Berrios: Drums; Ray Codrington: Trumpet; Joe Ford: Saxophone; Steve Novosel: Bass; Artie Sherman: Vocals. Larry Willis: Piano

The Powers of Two

Tracks: 1. Awakening (7:06); 2. Mood Swing (6:42); 3. Aftershock (5:53); 4. Space Dreams (10:23); 5. Interlock East (7:59); 6. Dance of the Equinox (7:17); 7. Hi-Jack (6:14); 8. And He Never Said a Mumblin' Word (Truth Be Told) (8:42).
Personnel: Larry Willis - piano; Paul Murphy - drums.


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Art (de Vivre) of the Trio Multiple Reviews The Art (de Vivre) of the Trio
by Geno Thackara
Published: August 12, 2017
Read Sven-Åke Johansson's Blue For A Moment Multiple Reviews Sven-Åke Johansson's Blue For A Moment
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 2, 2017
Read Roots In The Green Mountains Multiple Reviews Roots In The Green Mountains
by Doug Collette
Published: July 29, 2017
Read Green Mountain Jazz Multiple Reviews Green Mountain Jazz
by Doug Collette
Published: July 24, 2017
Read Guitars on Three Continents Multiple Reviews Guitars on Three Continents
by Geno Thackara
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana Multiple Reviews Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana
by James Nadal
Published: July 12, 2017
Read "The Art (de Vivre) of the Trio" Multiple Reviews The Art (de Vivre) of the Trio
by Geno Thackara
Published: August 12, 2017
Read "Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana" Multiple Reviews Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana
by James Nadal
Published: July 12, 2017
Read "Calling Ra, Mr. Sun Ra your rocket ship is ready" Multiple Reviews Calling Ra, Mr. Sun Ra your rocket ship is ready
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 9, 2016
Read "Three saxophonists very different paths since "Propagations"" Multiple Reviews Three saxophonists very different paths since...
by John Eyles
Published: November 23, 2016
Read "Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas" Multiple Reviews Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas
by Doug Collette
Published: January 14, 2017

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.