Blue Note president Alfred Lion knew talent when he saw it and in the early 1960sa time of unparalleled success for his once fledgling labelhe signed an astonishingly virtuosic drummer who had recently emerged with Jackie McLean. We all know the story: a mere eighteen years old and Williams was an unstoppable force at the kit. Beating infectious time over sharp snare hits and the resounding wash of his hi-hat, the youngster added a new dimension to every band he played with. He flourished at Blue Note and, after an almost twenty-year hiatus, was one of the first to rejoin the roster in 1985, when the label reformed.
The jazz world had changed considerably in the two decades since Williams had first recorded for Blue Note and the arc of his career closely mirrored the popular transformation of the music: the balls out rock of Lifetime followed by a series of fusion efforts. But in 1985 Williams was ready to re-embrace tradition. The now middle-aged wonder child recruited a band from the ranks of the "Young Lions and, along with a few names from his earlier Blue Note stint, took them to the studio. Mosaic Select 24 celebrates this time in Williams' career, over the course of four albums and seven productive years with his working quintet.
The first two albums to come out of his resigning, Foreign Intrigue and Civilization, make up the first disc, highlighting Williams' talent as a composer as well as his ensemble prowess. Ron Carter's bass cuts a deep groove under Williams' insistent ride pattern on "My Michelle one of the more interesting originals by the leadercoaxing inspired solos from pianist Mulgrew Miller, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and an ebullient Wallace Roney on trumpet. Williams makes it clear that he's not stuck in the 1960s throughout the first disc, dubbing digitized drum beats and synthesized hand claps to grooves, and behind solos that add a distinctly 1980s vibe to the sessions, for better or worse.
While it's easy to get caught up in the dated aspects of the sessions, it's important not to get distracted from the truly memorable ensemble and solo playing that takes place. This was a working band that stayed relatively intact for years, developing an undeniable rapport that is rare in any era. This is evident on "Red Mask, a tune Williams introduces with a thundering jazz-rock report before shifting into swinging groove in tandem with bassist Charnett Moffett. Over their pliant swing, tenorist Bill Pierce, Roney and Miller solo inventively before joining in the shouting out chorus.
1991's The Story of Neptune ends the set and finds the band embarking on a rather ambitious three-movement Williams composition. Through the frantic ostinato of "Overture, the reflectively foreboding "Fear Not, and the insistent groove of "Creatures of Conscience, the band stays true to Williams' intent, following his dynamic lead, thriving off the focused intensity of his remarkable artistry.
Track Listing: CD1: Foreign Intrigue; My Michele; Life Of The Party; Takin
Personnel: CD1: Wallace Roney: trumpet; Donald Harrison: alto saxophone (1-7); Bobby Hutcherson: vibraphone (1-7); Mulgrew Miller: piano; Ron Carter: bass (1-7); Tony Williams: drums, electronic drums (1-7), drum machine; Bill Pierce; tenor and soprano saxophone (8-13); Charnett Moffett: bass (8-13). CD2: Wallace Roney: trumpet; Bill Pierce: tenor and soprano saxophone; Mulgrew Miller: piano; Tony Williams: drums, drum machine (1-2); Charnett Moffett: bass (1-11); Ira Coleman: bass (12); Robert Hurst: bass (13). CD3: Wallace Roney: trumpet; Bill Pierce: tenor and soprano saxophone; Mulgrew Miller: piano; Tony Williams: drums; Ira Coleman: bass (1,4,6-12); Robert Hurst: bass (2,3,5).
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