Over the course of the fifty-some years that he was on this planet, drummer Tony Williams made his mark on the world of jazz through innovation and creativity in a way that few had done before him and even fewer have accomplished since his untimely death in 1998. Highly lauded by critics and fans alike, Williams' work in the late '60s with the power trio Lifetime is the impetus for the group Trio Beyond, featuring John Scofield, Larry Goldings and Jack DeJohnette. Paying homage while fostering their own collective individualism, these gentlemen manage to splash a fresh coat of paint on a diverse set of compositions variously associated with Williams, Lifetime, Miles Davis and Larry Young.
Recorded live in the UK in 2004, this two-disc set is chock full of incendiary music that manages to sound forward-thinking, even as its swinging values sit squarely within the tradition. DeJohnette fits the bill here perfectly, his organically complex approach not that far removed from Williams' own muse. Like Larry Young, Goldings thinks more in linear terms with extended lines that spill over bar lines while creating their own momentum. Somewhat removed from John McLaughlin's edgy pyrotechnics, Scofield still has his own share of tricks and effects that mesh well with the overall personality of this unit.
Things open up with "If from Larry Young's iconic 1965 Blue Note date Unity. DeJohnette touches on the best qualities of Williams and Elvin Jones, the drummer on the original recording, as he fills the spaces left open by the melody's stop and go nature. Goldings' own "As One reaches beyond the stratosphere for a decidedly more abstract reading than the one heard on the organist's own recording of the tune. The trio's spontaneously improvised "Saudades breaks out a heavy backbeat, the slow burning groove a feature for Scofield's effects-laden guitar. Closing out the first disc are the melancholy strains of "Pee Wee and the more frenetic "Spectrum, the latter a perfect vehicle for some of Scofield most frenzied solo work.
The second disc hits again on Williams' tenure with Miles Davis in the guise of "Seven Steps to Heaven, an updated arrangement that displaces the melody's usual accents while also interpolating the vamp figure that launches each soloist. Things quiet down for the standard "I Fall In Love Too Easily and "Love in Blues, both expansive features for Scofield and Goldings. John Coltrane's "Big Nick gets the pots on again for some straightforward swing before the bombast of "Emergency wraps things up by pulling out all the stops.
Befitting of ECM's attention to detail, the sound quality of these live sides is nothing short of remarkable, both transparent and exact in positioning of instruments within the stereo spread. Sure to be one of my top picks for 2006, Trio Beyond makes a big splash on Saudades, and one can only hope that we'll hear more from this threesome in the very near future.
CD1: If; As One; Allah Be Praised; Saudades; Pee Wee; Spectrum. CD2: Seven Steps to
Heaven; I Fall in Love Too Easily; Love in the Blues; Big Nick; Emergency.
Jack DeJohnette: drums; John Scofield: guitars; Larry Goldings: Hammond organ, electric
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