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Buster Williams: Pinnacle

Douglas Payne By

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One of the great losses to jazz is that Herbie Hancock's 1970-73 Mwandishi band could not have been as profitable as it was protean, progressive and ever too-briefly productive. Launched from the spaces that fostered Bitches Brew, Hancock introduced elements of both the avant-garde and soul jazz to create a groove that was as unusual and provocative in sound as it was striking in its musical excellence.

Hancock's young sextet was utterly prepared to traverse and unite such opposing climes too. In an era that produced stacks of mind-numbing fusion, Hancock delivered the very few notable jazz statements of the time by assembling a crack team featuring reed player Bennie Maupin, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Julian Priester, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart.

With the exception of the drummer, each member of the sextet cut his own Mwandishi styled record. Henderson made two for Capricorn (1974-75) and Maupin (1974) and Priester (1973) each recorded one for ECM. Bassist Buster Williams made his solo recording debut for the Muse label in 1975 with this one, Pinnacle, a Mwandishi-styled recording recently reissued by 32 Jazz.

Whereas the other Mwandishi members recruited band mates like Hancock for their solo projects, Williams opts here to recreate the sound keeping only drummer Billy Hart from the original band. Onaje Allan Gumbs is especially Hancock-like on the occasionally electric eclectics (notably on the funky "The Hump") and more frequently required piano backbone (especially appealing on the gospel-ish "Noble Ego" and the more exotic "Batuki"). Reed players Earl Turbinton and Sonny Fortune share duties recreating the swagger and the sweetness of Bennie Maupin, while trumpeter Woody Shaw brings his own trademark bop sound to the title track and "Batuki." The addition of Guilherme Franco's percussion and vocalists on "Noble Ego" and "Pinnacle" suggest that Pinnacle is a descendant of drummer Norman Connor's Mwandishi-like records, Dance of Magic (1972) and Dark of Light (1973).

The program's five long selections, four by Williams himself, set up interesting ostinatos that allow for thoughtful, well-considered improvisation. Williams himself is outstanding, particularly well featured in his self-designed spaces and never as out of place or obstructive as a strong rhythm player can too often be. He suggests that he had ably developed a language beyond the more familiar diction of Ron Carter and one that clearly laid the foundation for Stanley Clarke.

But even as a launch pad for often exquisite playing, the spacey, riff-based tunes fail to engage the listener the way such later Williams compositions as "Toku Do" and "Air Dancing" would - although the waltz-like "Tayamisha" comes close. Still, Kosmigroove listeners and Mwandishi fans will want to hear this music and it's of more than passing interest to those interested in the wide-ranging sounds of Williams, Sonny Fortune, Woody Shaw and Onaje Allan Gumbs as well.

Tracks:The Hump; Noble Ego; Pinnacle; Tayamisha; Batuki.

Players:Buster Williams: acoustic bass, fender bass, vocal on "Pinnacle"; Earl Turbinton: soprano sax on "Pinnacle," "Tayamisha," "Batuki", bass clarinet on "The Hump," "Pinnacle;" Sonny Fortune: soprano sax on "The Hump," Pinnacle," flute on "Batuki," alto flute on "Pinnacle," "Tayamisha," Woody Shaw: trumpet on "Pinnacle" and "Batuki;" Onaje Allan Gumbs: acoustic piano, electric piano, moog synthesizer, arp string ensemble; Billy Hart: drums; Guilherme Franco: percussion; Suzanne Klewan and Marcus: vocals on "Noble Ego," "Pinnacle."

Title: Pinnacle | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: 32 Records


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