Heads of State - Search for Peace (Smoke Sessions Records, 2015)
Gary Bartz - Saxophones
Larry Willis- piano
Buster Williams - bass
Al Foster - drums
“Supergroups” are often tired, uninspired and pointless. At least, that is often the case in the rock and pop worlds. Jazz musicians, on the other hand are composed of recombinant DNA, and musical promiscuity is the norm. Most jazz groups made up of veterans are “supergroups” because the top players share a rarefied air of technical and expressive excellence. Hence this group, a quartet whose members truly need no introduction to the jazz audience. Their collective moniker is particularly apt as each of these gentlemen has carved out an empire on the continent of post-60s improvised music.
“Impressions” – Things get off to a strong start with a sprightly take on the Coltrane classic. The gauntlet is thrown down and the manifesto is presented. This is the kind of jazz these people are all about. Meat and potatoes, 1960s style, with a LOT of flavor in the gravy.
Bartz’s “Uncle Bubba” is a tune I knew from McCoy Tyner’s 1984 “Dimensions” album (which featured the late violinist John Blake. Oh Coltrane, your children are such beautiful musicians!). This version seems to my ear to emphasize the tune’s Thelonious Monk-ish influence, especially in Bartz’s solo. Williams is in great tone and his solo is full of odd jumps, glisses, and suspensions which perfectly fit the Monk vibe. A short and sweet performance.
“Search For Peace” by McCoy Tyner – Dusky dissonances from Willis lead to a simple, singable sax melody (I keep imagining this sung by a choir). Bartz states his piece and leads Willis into an achingly wistful bridge. Willis then journeys through frustrated resignation to mellowly funky uplift while Foss supports with empathetic brush work, at one point hinting at double time. Bartz plays bluesy with the melody before the bass sings a lullaby for a peaceful sleep. Bartz’s recap recaptures the wistfulness and ends alone but for arco bass. No wonder they named the album after this piece.
Jackie McLean’s “Capuchin Swing: is tasty mid-tempo bop. I wasn’t familiar with this tune to make comparisons between versions, but this recording is brightly swinging and well played.
“Soulstice” by Bartz is a Coltrane-y uptempo tune built on a bluesy bop riff. Bartz gives us sweet freedom-in-the-tradition and Willis channels Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton in his dense-but-swinging accompaniment and melodic solo. Foster’s marching snare leads the parade of toms.
“Crazy She Calls Me”, and “Lotus Blossom” – These gentle readings are perfect Sunday afternoon jazz. And “I Wish I Knew” is characterized by Willis’ choppy stabs and William’s restless aggression.
“Summer Serenade” was unfamiliar to me, but was written by the old master Benny Carter, I was inspired to explore this album after hearing this tune on WBGO in Newark, New Jersey. Buster’s gentle groove leads us into a composition that perfectly exemplifies its title. Foss plays his ass off underneath (WHERE does he get all these cymbal textures?) and Buster showcases. I need to mention that this disc is extremely well-produced, one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard this year.
Overall, this disc shows that the old masters still have it. Henry Rollins once mentioned that he loved when older music and older musicians kicked the ass of the new, young and hyped. This is certainly the case here. Four vets with nothing to prove, proving that when you mix experience, vision and a big dose of passion, art results. Tasty, accessible, deep and moving, its well worth joining the Heads of State on their “Search For Peace”.
Review made by Kevin F. Wozniak/2015
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