It seems as if the second chapter of Tony Williams’ Blue Note solo career (1985–1992) has been rather forgotten. But listening back again after quite a few years, it’s striking how different those six albums sound to most acoustic jazz records being made these days.
Though no fan of the whole ‘Young Lions’ neo-traditionalist thing (though it’s sometimes forgotten that he featured heavily on Wynton Marsalis’s 1982 debut), Williams nonetheless made a commitment to composing for a ‘standard’ five-piece lineup through this period, and in the process provided superb platforms for the likes of pianist Mulgrew Miller, trumpeter Wallace Roney, bassist Charnett Moffett and saxist Bill Pierce. But he always mixed his drums loud and proud. You were in no doubt that this was a drummer’s band.
Though he had always written music, Tony began composition classes in the early 1980s. They paid off handsomely too, and it’s surprising that tunes as ‘Native Heart’, ‘Sister Cheryl’, ‘My Michelle’ and ‘Life Of The Party’ haven’t been covered more often. Maybe people just haven’t heard them.
But it’s ‘Creatures Of Conscience’ from 1991’s The Story Of Neptune that has mainly been rattling around my head over the last month or so. It’s a superb through-composed piece which is basically set up as a drum solo with interjecting tutti band figures. Check out how he marshals the written material and then cuts into a really special solo about two-thirds of the way in.