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C.I. Williams: When Alto Was King

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Yet another chapter in Hamiet Bluiett’s Explorations series of productions, which often seek to set the record straight on what the outspoken bari man views as under-recognized artists, this date by C.I. Williams goes a distance in doing just that for a neglected master of the alto sax. Mr. Williams has a buttery tone that is delivered with authority and the veteran’s sense of relaxed swing. His tone bending, for example, is done very subtly and with a knowingness that never announces the arrival of the next bended note. He plays it with a liquidity and fluid sense of phrasing that makes every piece a study in elegance.

The evidence starts right from the opening gate, traveling through his storytelling blues “Punkin’ Juice;” he literally owns “Jeep’s Blues,” and check his gorgeous opening cadenza on “I’ll Close My Eyes.” “Avalon” is delivered in duo with C.I.’s contemporary Keter Betts on bass, and “Precious Lord” is stripped to the bare alto essentials. Accompaniment also includes pianists Larry Willis and Donald Blackman, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and guitarist Ed Cherry.