If you only know saxophonist Mars Williams
from his gigs with the post-punk band The Psychedelic Furs or the hip-hop/funk band Liquid Soul, you're missing out on a talented and dedicated free-jazz improviser. He scatters himself in many directions, from collaborations with Chicago's Ken Vandermark
, Tim Daisy
, Jim Baker
and Michael Zerang
, to work in Europe with Switchback and Raoul Bjorkenheim
's Scorch Trio. He also leads the power trio Boneshaker, maintains Hal Russell
's spirit with the NRG Ensemble, and he released the amazing An Ayler Xmas
(So What Records, 2017). And that is just scratching the surface of his workload. Williams' free-jazz outings include the long out-of-print Hoofbeats Of The Snorting Swine
(Eight Day Music, 1996) with Vandermark, and he can also be heard with Peter Brötzmann
, Joe McPhee
, and Paal Nilssen-Love
. Painted Pillars
with Norwegian drummer Tollef Østvang
is both an outstanding introduction to Williams' free jazz and an essential component in his discography. Credit Østvang, an imperturbable percussionist, who excels as a colorist. He is a member of several ensembles which can be found on his Stone Floor label and Clean Feed Records. They include Universal Indians with John Dikeman
, the Norwegian quintet Friends & Neighbors, the quintet All Included, and the septet The Way Ahead. Østvang and Williams shape each of the three pieces heard here into extended investigations of sound and pulse.
Recorded live in 2017, "Mental Chaos" opens with a certain tranquility, balancing quiet against a brewing storm. Halfway through, Williams channels his inner Albert Ayler
and Østvang his inner Sunny Murray. They use these legends as touchstonesas a tribute and to mine their vocabularies. The same methods are utilized with "Painted Pillars," where connections can be made with Roscoe Mitchell, Evan Parker
and Famoudou Don Moye
. The track begins quietly enough with toys and bells before finding momentum in the snarkiness of upper register sounds played against clamorous drumming. Finally, there's "Wandering Eyes." Williams and Østvang have reached a point of being completely simpatico. Halfway through, you might imagine hearing Ornette Coleman
in duet with Hamid Drake
. Was this a dream or are they extracting the backstory of jazz history?
Mental Chaos; Painted Pillars; Wandering Eyes.
Mars Williams: saxophones, toy instruments; Tollef Østvang: drums, percussion.