Saturday, June 24, 2017

Heads of State - Four in One (Smoke Sessions, 2017)

Heads of State is a group of veteran jazz musicians consisting of Gary Bartz on alto saxophone, Larry Willis on piano, David Williams on bass and Al Foster on drums. The group plays strong and swinging hard bop, ballads and mainstream jazz, beginning with the title track "Four in One," a Thelonious Monk composition, creating a fast paced version of the memorable tune. The band plays the theme quickly, then moving into a round of solos, and Bartz is particularly fluid in his playing. "And He Called Himself a Messenger" looks back on time spent as part of Art Blakey's band, and they are able to explore a deep groove akin to the music that was made by his groups. Foster sets the pace with an excellent beat and allows the group to anchor a string of potent solos. The music takes on a more subtle focus on Wayne Shorter's "Dance Cadaverous" with another excellent solo segment from Gary Bartz, one that is well constructed and makes excellent use of the source material before moving into the Charlie Parker bebop flag-waver "Moose the Mooche" with a fast and pithy performance. The group keeps the music compact and bright sounding, allowing it the room to move while keeping a tight hand on the reigns. A deeply rhythmic drum solo opens "Aloysius" with Foster making the best of the space before the rest of the group comes crashing in for a driving theme and improvisation. The music is joyful sounding and very accessible, and there is a palpable sense that the musicians are very happy playing together and are completely engaged by the material.  After the ballad "The Day You Said Goodbye," the band doesn't skip a beat revving into the Miles Davis “Sippin’ at Bells.” After a springy reading of the melody, a deep pocket is developed for ripe interplay of the instruments including a sparkling piano trio section and another impressive drum solo. Foster also leads them into the finale of the Eddie Harris composition "Freedom Jazz Dance" which develops a lightly funky groove and mines it for a lengthy and exciting improvisation with further solos for saxophone and bass. This band began as the Larry Willis All-Stars, assembled to pay tribute to the pianist McCoy Tyner, but gradually grew into a collective ensemble. They play a wide variety of post-bop jazz, and everything is performed in an enthusiastic and exciting manner. Four in One -

Send comments to Tim.