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Bruce Williams: Altoicity

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Bruce Williams certainly has a beautiful alto sax sound, and his previous Savant CD showed he’s mastered the basics. His second release features five superb numbers; unfortunately, there are six others that range from humdrum to utterly forgettable, and those prevent the CD from being a first-rate showcase for Williams’ talents. The opening selection, “Tangerine,” moves so slowly it’s almost leaden, even though Williams’ jubilant playing makes it acceptable. But Russell Gunn’s trumpet solo is disjointed and flimsy; indeed, it’s shocking if you’ve heard Gunn live or on other occasions. His work on this and three other compositions just doesn’t click, and he’s even less appealing during unison segments alongside Williams. Pianist Marc Cary’s vastly superior as a second soloist: his flurries, counterpoint and accompaniment are not only impressive, but often restore the balance on those numbers where Gunn’s solos have lowered the energy level. Likewise, drummer Cecil Brooks III and bassist Gerald Cannon work well off Cary’s direction: Brooks plays with a resourceful quality that coolly underscores Cary’s nimble abilities.

Williams is a fine ballad stylist, although on uptempo songs he sometimes substitutes flash for ideas. But his interpretations of “You Are So Beautiful” and “Sophisticated Lady” are elegant and thoughtful, while he offers fiery lines and phrases during his solos on “Half Nelson” and “East of the Sun.” He also demonstrates comprehensive knowledge of the soul-jazz and blues idioms as a composer: “Elijah Blue” and especially “Pot Liquor” are funky, enjoyable frolics that liven things up considerably.

Altoicity certainly has flaws, but there’s plenty to like about Bruce Williams’ playing.