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Album Review

Jeff Williams: Road Tales - Live At London Jazz Festival


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Jeff Williams: Road Tales - Live At London Jazz Festival
Some live albums impress with the sophistication of restraint or sonic clarity, others simply boast energy. Veteran drummer Jeff Williams' Road Tales: Live At London Jazz Festival unmistakably belongs to the latter. Vested with two handfuls of original compositions and an adept cast of sidemen, Williams delivers a fiery set of saxophone-led post-bop that revisits a number of tunes from the drummer's past albums and presents a couple of new pieces.

Since joining Whirlwind recordings, Williams has been able to revive the spirit from his creative days in the 1970s, when the American drummer appeared on some of the period's more extravagant and electric jazz albums, as for example part of Dave Liebman's Lookout Farm (ECM, 1974). Records like Lifelike (Whirlwind Recordings 2018) and Outlier (Whirlwind Recordings, 2016) demonstrate his melodic sensibilities as well as his compositional skillset while seeing the drummer supported by casts of young and dynamic talents from the English jazz scene. After successful piano trio departure Bloom (Whirlwind Recordings, 2019) featuring Carmen Staaf, Road Tales once again switches up the game and finds him in the company of a saxophone elite composed of John O'Gallagher and Josh Arcoleo. Like Arcoleo, bassist Sam Lasserson is part of Williams' working band and once again returns on the deep frequencies here.

As is often the case with chordless outfits, a tendency towards the freer relationship between notes and intervals dominates the band's interplay and can be traced across this entire set. "New and Old," a tune that first appeared on Outlier, is given an extensive 14-minute treatment to open the set and sees the quartet juggling with melodies and rhythms in most colorful fashion. Tenor and alto saxophone are given much space to unfold and both, O'Gallagher and Arcoleo, know how to take advantage of such freedom—in the harmonic and in the timely sense of the word. In some places the quartet's constellation calls to mind Dewey Redman and Don Cherry-led outfit Old And New Dreams, but at the end of the day Williams and his companions keep to a straight-ahead approach and fall back to a more conventional hard-bop style, relying on supple swing and extensive improvisations to carry the group from head to head.

"Interloper"'s broken beat features a standout performance by Arcoleo, whose alto builds an elegant dynamic arc with an extroverted climax over sparse accompaniment, making the tune a highlight of the record. Other cuts from earlier records, such as "Oddity," "Borderline" or "Scruge," are solid performances of rather straight-forward material that give a good glance at Williams' writing of the past decade, while "Search Me"'s stretched out cinematic theme and subsequent root-note based jam brings fresh ingredients to the date.

A fine live document of Jeff Williams' latter day compositional prowess in the hands (and lips) of a young expert quartet, Road Tales is filled with captivating performances without bringing anything substantially new to the table. But then again, no one expects the London-based drummer to repeatedly reinvent himself in a career that has already seen him partner up in pioneering groups with the likes of Lee Konitz, Stan Getz or Richie Beirach. Adding further joyous collaborations to his already important discography is more than anyone could ask of him.

Track Listing

New And Old; There Interploper; Borderline; Oddity; Under The Radar; Scrunge; Search Me; She Can't Be A Spy; Double Life.


Album information

Title: Road Tales - Live At London Jazz Festival | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings

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