Willie Williams (tenor saxophone & soprano saxophone); Gary Wang (bass); Rudy Walker (drums)
Audio Remasterer: Fred McFarlane
Jazz Times (p.134) – “Bassist Gary Wang and drummer Rudy Walker keep up the energy and sense of restless exploration in this most satisfying set.”
By Stewart Mason
The fact that saxophonist Willie Williams is from Philadelphia, combined with the cool, retro, space graphics and the title Comet Ride, might lead some to expect a Sun Ra-style space-jazz freak-out. But while there’s an adventurous feel to this trio set, the longtime T.S. Monk sideman keeps to the tonal side of modern jazz throughout. In fact, after the spirited title track, the album settles into a fairly placid groove for its first half, following the lovely, floating “Tenor Ballet” with a pair of post-bop ballads, the gently melodic “I’m Misunderstood” and the slightly more outside “Three Generations,” that strongly recall John Coltrane’s late-’50s work with Monk. The feisty “Freedom Suite” kicks off the more up-tempo second half of this double-album-length set; not the Sonny Rollins masterpiece of the same title, this powerful 15-minute workout marries Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” to two Jimmy Heath classics, “Gingerbread Boy” and “C.T.A.” in a showcase for Williams’ aggressive solos. Drummer Rudy Walker gets the spotlight in the funk shuffle “Mo’ Grits,” while Gary Wang’s brief but effective bass solos throughout the album betray a hint of Jimmy Garrison influence in their melodic inventiveness. Overall, Comet Ride is a solid, modern outing that makes one wish this sideman did more work as a leader and composer.
By DAN MCCLENAGHAN
The opening and title track of Willie Williams’ Comet Ride really does blaze out of the speakers like visitor from the outer reaches of the solar system. Williams’ searing tenor wails; trailing a fiery tail of sax, splashing cymbals and loping bass lines. And though the trio configuration—sax/bass/drums, without a chording instrument—suggests a free outing, the sound here maintains an accessible melodic structure, even when it’s cranked-up into an approaching-the-sun velocity.
“Tenor Ballet” slows things down to a dirge level. The tune begins with Williams blowing long, eerie notes in front of Gary Wang’s bowed bass for a beautifully pensive affair, with Wang and Williams conversing in deep and intimate tones.
Eight of the ten offerings here are from Williams’ pen, with Ellington’s “Caravan” closing the set, and “Freedom Suite”—not to be confused with Sonny Rollins’ like-titled 1958 tune of the same name—serving as the centerpiece. Williams’ “Freedom Suite” is medley of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” and Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” and “CTA,” a deft combination of the tunes that proves a churning, hard-charging fifteen minutes of in-your-face jazz.
“Caravan,” with the rarely-heard vocal bridge, is dominated by a smooth, layered flow of African rhythms supplied by drummer Rudy Walker, behind Williams impassioned blowing.
Williams, whose highest profile thus far comes from his work with drummer T.S Monk, blows hard, with big lungs like Sonny Rollins or Dexter Gordon. Comet Ride is a fine introduction to his saxophone artistry.
By Eyal Hareuveni
The opener, “Comet Ride,” demonstrates this trio raison d’être—swing hard and fast, and sing loud through the chord changes. The track highlights the close affinity between the three players, who keep feeding each other until the inevitable climax. The somber “Tenor Ballet” follows, based on a counterpoint exercise and featuring the Wang’s elegant and reserved arco playing, which adds a dream-like quality to the piece.
Williams and Wang continue with similar interplay as they introduce “I’m Misunderstood,” a beautiful and soulful blues, with another well-articulated solo from Wang. The spontaneous improvisation, “Three Generations,” begins with careful exploration before Williams and Wang begin to push forward and outside, while Walker lays down a clever series of accents. “Leprechaun’s Dance” is built on a series of fast changes played tightly by Wang and Walker, setting Williams up to pursue a Celtic-flavored soprano solo.
“Changes of Heart” demonstrates Williams’ more aggressive side, as he improvises on a more complex set of changes, while Wang and Walker deliver a steady and tight beat. The most impressive piece is the fifteen-minute arrangement of “Freedom Suite,” a medley from sax legends Eddie Harris (“Freedom Jazz Dance”) and Jimmy Heath (“Gingerbread Boy,” “C.T.A,”). It’s also a heartfelt homage to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, as Williams plays both saxophones at once during the introduction and reprise of “Freedom Jazz Dance,” enabling him to deliver some brilliant work, but also leading the trio through focused playing based on groove and hard, uncompromising swing.
Williams’ “Mo’ Grits,” his dedication to the Southern corn porridge, is a light and simple piece featuring Walker as a master of swinging rhythms. Williams rearranges “Philly Syndrome,” based on several rhythm changes, from his first release House Calls (New Note, 1988). It refers to his inner conflict as he left the cozy and supportive Philadelphia for the more competitive and alienated but ultimately more rewarding New York scene.
Williams concludes this impressive 75-minute odyssey with a well thought-out arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” a drum showcase that feature Walker as he beautifully layers a series of African rhythms and leads the trio. Williams adds the seldom-heard vocal bridge to this arrangement, lending a more swinging quality to this classic standard.
- Comet Ride
- Tenor Ballet
- I’m Misunderstood
- Three Generations
- Leprechaun’s Dance
- Changes Of Heart
- Freedom Suite: Freedom Jazz Dance/Gingerbread Boy/C.T.A/Freedom Jazz Dance Reprise
- Mo’ Grits
- Philly Syndrome
|Release Date||Sep 18, 2007|
|Recording Time||75 minutes|