SAUDADES • Trio Beyond
(John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette, Larry Goldings)
In a life that was all too short, drummer Tony Williams compiled enough musical accomplishments to fill a couple of mortal spans for most people. When he was still a teenager, he began playing with Miles Davis' most famous quintet, and was later among the first to conjoin jazz and rock with his group Lifetime. And, oh, did I mention that along the way he reinvented the art of playing the drums?
Trio Beyond was conceived as an opportunity for three generations of top-flight jazz musicians to pay tribute to the groundbreaking music of Williams and Lifetime. When Tony Williams first joined with British guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young, few had heard musicians with jazz-level harmonic depth and technical skills playing with the intensity, tone, and volume of rock music. Thanks to Williams' vision, musicians, beginning with DeJohnette's generation, have become increasingly comfortable shifting back and forth between jazz and rock--Scofield plays with Phil Lesh, while Goldings tours with Maceo and James Taylor. More interesting is the way that--after some unfortunate missteps in the 70s and 80s--this fusion has invigorated both jazz and rock. (Take that, you Jazz Nazis.)
On Saudades, three of today's best jazz musicians, caught live, honor and expand on this tradition of musical miscegenation. Performing Larry Young's "Allah Be Praised," John McLaughin's "Spectrum," and Tony Williams' tunes, "Pee Wee" and "Emergency," they respect the music by rendering it in their own voices. They also nod to Williams' Miles years with "Seven Steps To Heaven," and a standard associated with Davis, "I Fall In Love Too Easily."
The unfortunate economics of the jazz world mean that you will probably never see this band in America, so grab this two-disc set. When Sco quotes "There Will Never Be Another You" in the group-composed title tune, a joyous skronk/funk workout, or when the trio stretches "I Fall In Love Too Easily" into a modal vamp incorporating backwards guitar effects, somewhere Tony Williams is smiling.
• Michael Ross