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Heads of State: Search for Peace

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These four elder statesmen of postbop-Gary Bartz, alto and soprano saxophones; Larry Willis, piano; Buster Williams, bass; and Al Foster, drums-had crossed paths many times but never played together as a quartet before an engagement last fall at New York City’s Smoke, organized as a tribute to McCoy Tyner. On their first outing as a band, their high degree of musical telepathy makes them sound like they’ve been playing together for years.

A collective consciousness oozes from these tracks, echoes of the giants with whom they apprenticed, including Tyner, Miles, Monk, Jackie McLean and Sonny Rollins, among others. The album features two songs associated with Tyner, Coltrane’s “Impressions,” which gets the album off and running on a modal groove, and Tyner’s ruminative “Search for Peace.” But there’s much more, including two Bartz originals, tunes by McLean and Benny Carter, and three well-chosen standards.

First among equals here is Bartz, whose warmth and eloquence on saxophone put his highly individual stamp on the record. As critic Ted Panken recounts in the liner notes, Bartz is a firm believer in the principle that to play a standard well, one must learn the lyrics, and the fruits of that approach are apparent in an exquisite reading of “Crazy She Calls Me,” the ballad famously recorded by Billie Holiday. Willis, whose style mixes modalism and a rough-hewn impressionism, solos with delicacy and grace on the title track. McLean’s “Capuchin Swing,” which reworks the distinctive changes to the ballad “Star Eyes,” offers the pleasure of hearing Bartz, Willis and Williams navigate them with aplomb. Foster and Williams play with the restraint and lyricism that have distinguished their careers. Herein lie lessons not available in any jazz studies program.

Originally Published