To Ronnie with Love
Sunday, September 21st, 2008
Multi-instrumentalist Willie Williams is yet another member of a fraternity with far too many among their number: those talented musicians who create and hone their craft well out of the view of the majority of the jazz audience. This audience (whose numbers vary widely, depending on whom you talk to) will relish obvious talent when presented with it. Such a talent was again on view at Mt.Vernon's The Bass Line Lounge on Sept. 21st. The occasion: a continuing series put on by Very Truly Yours, this latest was a tribute to the late pianist Ronnie Mathews, who passed away in June of this year.

Although a card-carrying member of the TDWR crew (talent deserving wider recognition), Williams has such stalwart names as Sam Rivers, Michael Carvin, Jaki Byard and perhaps most prominently, Art Taylor on his resume (the 'Taylor's Wailers' band, circa early 90's). Willie Williams brought all this experience to bear in a Sunday afternoon performance that showed both the joys and drawbacks of the jam session format. The band headed up by Williams included Patience Higgins on reeds, backed by the piano of Marcus Persiani, Eric Lemon on bass and Chuck McPherson, drums.

Things kicked off with Mathews "Selena's Dance?, a beautiful waltz set off by a staccato horn line played in unison by Williams and Higgins. The piano of Persiani stood out, his right hand finding a Tyner-esque groove. Next came "Dark before the Dawn?, another Ronnie Mathews composition, one with a difficult chord sequence to blow on. A full-bodied piano intro led to Patience Higgins on soprano sax, who coolly quoted "A Love Supreme", blowing both light and lyrical. His solo, with shades of Lucky Thompson noted, contrasted well with Williams? tone on the straight horn. Williams acknowledges Coltrane as an early influence-his technically adroit solo brought to mind Trane, vintage 60'...a good year for wine and the soprano saxophone! A conversational bass solo from Eric Lemon-whose sound hints of a mentor, one Cecil McBee, took it out.

Still, the minimal amount of time this particular group had played together previously was evident-in some of the 'heads?, as well as a tentative approach to some solos-but Williams and company soldiered on, encouraging the audience to take the journey with them. (?You're so quiet?, he said at one point to the crowd.) He need not have worried. Monk's "In Walked Bud" soon followed, with both Williams and Higgins blowing in the best of the 'two tenor' tradition. Everyone slipped into the changes like a comfortable pair of worn slippers; an easy groove flowed from the stage throughout the room, invigorating both the band and the listeners.

Seizing the moment, Williams revisited "Selena's Dance?, seeing that the person for whom the piece had been named had entered the room (Mathew?s daughter). This time the piece took on a different feel, as any tentativeness was completely gone. Following an up-tempo piano entry, both Patience Higgins and Williams showed their skill on soprano, with the latter?s circular breathing being a standout. McPherson's rolling drums underneath it all was a cohesive force. "Ronnie would have liked that?, said a smiling Willie Williams.

Other highlights included the dancing flute of Higgins on "Mambo Influenciado", Persiani's block chords on the same tune (he ate up the Afro-Cuban changes like a man unchained), the joyous feel on the closing tune, Wayne Shorter's "United"-a favorite of Ronnie Mathews. Both men closed on tenor with the long-since electrified audience yelling, smiling-most appreciative of what Willie Williams and Co. were able to share this day.

Yeah, Ronnie would have liked that...
- Charlie Davis
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