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JazzTimes 10: The Composing Drummer (or the Drumming Composer)

A tentet of works by players who are as mighty with the pen as they are with the sticks

3. Tony Williams: “Circa 45” (The Tony Williams Lifetime, Ego, Polydor, 1971)

In jazz, to be a worthy composer can sometimes depend entirely on one’s willingness and ability to stretch a single riff or phrase as far as it will go. On “Circa 45,” Tony Williams stretches one into space. Guitarist Ted Dunbar and organist Khalid Yasin, a.k.a. Larry Young, quietly articulate an eight-note figure (with vibraphonist Don Alias and bassist Ron Carter sounding off in between repetitions), letting atmosphere reign before Dunbar’s extended solo. But that riff takes on a life of its own—a dark, mysterious, vaguely sinister life—and the composed responses by Alias and Carter only heighten the intrigue. Williams’ compositions in Lifetime often consisted of solo drum performances, but not because he lacked the ability to create something special.

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Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.