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Larry Ham/Woody Witt: Presence

Geannine Reid By

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Larry Ham and Woody Witt's collaborative effort has brought forth the fruit of Presence, with the sophistication and melodic harmonic relationships that used to grace hard bop jazz, while still sporting just the right amount of abstract modernism from today's sound to supply a strong underpinning of the ensemble current.

Woody Witt, a Houston based tenor-saxophonist, composer, and educator, with the Larry Ham Trio, comprised of pianist Ham, bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Tom Melito are a highly interactive ensemble with symbiotic graces. Witt and Ham first met in 2008 when the New York-based pianist was on a tour of the Southwest. The two instantly hit it off, and the ember of Presence was born. The quartet performs four Witt originals, three Ham originals and two standards. "22's Blues" opens the set, with Witt's big warm tenor sound playing the Ham original melody with fire and precision. The quartet's swinging style has soul, and everyone certainly listens to each other and interacts. Witt's solo is driving, energetic and active, but he never loses his clear melodic direction. Witt's legato playing is still full of rhythmic clarity and his upper register howls are soulful. Hudson takes a melodic chorus followed by Ham, who has a clear and articulated right-hand style that digs into the harmony and rhythm in a way that is moving and musical. Witt and Ham tradeoff four measure phrases with drummer Melito, adding to the shape of the tune and building energy to the closing melodic statement.

Witt's "The Edge of Uncertainty" is a beautiful melody and the changes set to a straight-eight feel that bridges hard bop with modern colors and rhythms. Witt's solo is full of liquid runs with melodic development. The solo unfolds like a short story, a melodic plot is developed through many settings and emotions, but always clear and telling. Ham proceeds with a nice mix of controlled lines and well-placed chords. He is meticulous in his melodic statements, but the lines are always full of passion and in the pocket placement.

The quartet shows their finesse of the standards with, "Just You, Just Me." Bringing the jazz sounds of the 50's into today. The medium up-tempo swings hard, with Ham taking the first ride; again his right-hand articulation is a joy to hear. Witt is up to his usual musicality as well, with strong motivic construction and a full-bodied sound that is fluid throughout his registers. The quartet just swings, so the tune could be titled, just swing, just swing!

Presence is a prodigious collection of tunes for those who have an ear for players that can truly bridge the gap between modern sensibilities, hard bop and post-bop. As performers and composers, Witt and Ham can take this idea to task, and make it sound amazing. Full of precise and inventive playing. Along with music touches like great original compositions, various feels and styles, Witt and Ham weave a heartfelt collection of music into a wash of excellent jazz.

Track Listing: 22’s Blues; The Edge of Uncertainty; One of Many Shades; Dee’s Dream; Just you, Just Me; Pirouette; Bleecker Street; Concentric Circles; You Must Believe in Spring.

Personnel: Woody Witt: tenor saxophone; Larry Ham: piano; Lee Hudson: bass; Tom Melito: drums.

Title: Presence | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Blujazz Productions

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