The Tony Williams
I've heard the Tony Williams Lifetime, as this group is called, on three
separate occasions. The first time, at the Village Vanguard,
it intrigued me and even blowed me over at times; at Ungano's, my left
ear ached for a half hour, due perhaps to the high pitch of the
guitar notes or the club's acoustics; and most recently, at the
Village Gate, though impressed with William's energy, I was bored
with overlong numbers whose textural densities went nowhere,
for me, in a linear way.
Admittedly, this is music you have to give yourself to in a different
way. You've got to get your head ready for it, and not necessarily
with drugs. My reaction to this record-and I listened to it without
any outside distractions-comes closer to the first time I heard this
group live. There are no ear-numbing experiences, but the volume does
seem to intensify as the album progresses through its four sides.
Carla Bley's Vashkar, the shortest track in the set at 4:58, is the
most accessible to me. It has an exotic intriguing theme and really
moves, William's strong beat emerging from the textures created by
organ and guitar at various points along the way. McLaughlin solos
well, Young setting up a confluence of sounds between the two
instruments at the end of the guitarist's segment.
Williams' spoken words on Games convey a message about honesty that
makes sense and provokes thought. The intensity builds as Williams
employs a boogalootype rhythm before the words are reprised.
Williams is a miraculous drummer: listen to his furious attack
behind McLaughlin on Sangria, a track in which textures and meters
are varied for shaping and pacing, but which nevertheless seems to
go on too long. (I say, "seems" because maybe it won't the next
time I listen).
The fuzzy-buzzy sounds on the title track made me think my
amplifier had begun to fail. I dig distortion in other ways.
There is jazz and there is rock in this group but it doesn't quite
come out as rock-jazz or jazz-rock, although Spectrum Road, with its
group vocal, is more into a rock bag via some country blues guitar
and a general rhythmic bent.
Williams sings on Where. His voice is small and strained, but he
makes his point. McLaughlin is sitar-like. There is a Night in
Tunisia sort of thematic swatch introduced in the middle, and then
Young, a dexterous soloist, takes off as Williams cooks him right
along, Williams asks, "Where are you going?," later, "Where are
they going?," and finally, "Where am I going?"
To the last question, he answers: "I know where I'm going." He does.
If you want to follow, be prepared for an adventurous trip. I can't
say I like all of Lifetime, but what I do like strikes me as among
the freshest and most original sounds being made today.
Personnel: Larry Young, organ; John McLaughlin, guitar; Williams, drums,
1. To Whom It May Concern-Them
2. To Whom It May Concern-Us
3. This Night This Song
4. Big Nick
5. Right On
6. Once I Loved
7. Vuelta Abajo
8. A Famous Blues
9. Allah Be Praised