Boston-raised drummer Tony Williams (1945) moved to New York in 1962 (when he was barely 17) and was almost immediately hired by Miles Davis for Seven Steps to Heaven (1963). After playing on Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch (1964),
Williams became Davis' trusted drummer, popularizing a subtle convergence of
traditional time-keeping and avantgarde free drumming
that smoothly blended polyrhythms and variable time-signatures.
At the same time he recorded a milestone of drums-driven jazz music, Life Time (august 1964), that also revelead his skills as a composer. Memory, an eight-minute free-form jam with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Herbie Hancock, and especially the 19-minute two-part suite Two Pieces of One for a quartet with tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers and two bassists, displayed his skills at merging different moods and styles.
The same territory at the border between Miles Davis' music and free jazz
was explored on Spring (august 1965) by a supergroup with
Herbie Hancock, saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers, and bassist Gary Peacock, via more convoluted compositions (Extras, Love Song, Tee).
In the meantime his drumming style had evolved to incorporate a repertory of
tricks that used every part of the instrument for the purpose of crafting the
textural qualities of the piece (Davis' ideology, after all).
After he left Davis in 1969, Williams formed the jazz-rock group Lifetime, a trio with organist Larry Young and guitarist John McLaughlin.
Their debut album, the double-LP Emergency (may 1969), pretty much defined the genre via Williams' Emergency, Beyond Games and Sangria for Three, and McLaughlin's Where and Spectrum, pieces that were both intense, colorful and romantic.
The addition of rock bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce tilted the balance towards the pop-song format on Turn It Over (july 1970).
Williams regained control of the compositions on Ego (march 1971), a completely different album that showcased an intriguing fusion of psychedelic-rock and free-jazz elements (Lonesome Wells, again sung by Bruce, and The Urchins of Shermese).
After McLaughlin's departure, and a lame The Old Bum's Rush (1972) that
emphasized electronic keyboards and vocals, Williams reorganized Lifetime as
a quartet with bass, guitar and keyboards.
The highlight of Believe It (july 1975) and Million Dollar Legs (june 1976)
was the incendiary guitar work of British rock guitarist Allan Holdsworth
(basically a John Coltrane of the guitar).
The former was an energetic instrumental album (particularly
Fred, also known as Kinder),
while the latter destroyed the magic with vocals and a much more
Williams had clearly lost his inspiration, ending up with the mediocre
rhythm'n'blues of The Joy Of Flying (september 1978), despite
an inspired duet with Cecil Taylor.
After Third Plane (july 1977), a trio with Hancock and bassist Ron Carter
(that included Lawra),
he didn't release any album under his name until Foreign Intrigue (june 1985),
with his signature song Sister Cheryl,
the preamble to the old-fashioned hard-bop quintet formed with
pianist Mulgrew Miller and trumpeter Wallace Roney that recorded
Civilization (november 1986), a classic of the genre (with
Geo Rose, Ancient Eyes, Warriors,
Civilization, Mutants on the Beach, Citadel),
Angel Street (april 1988),
Native Heart (september 1989)
The Story of Neptune (december 1991), with the three-movement suite
These albums highlighted his skills at composing music that was modern while
being traditional, and (perhaps too often) his bombastic drumming style.
Williams' next project was a new quintet with tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Stanley Clarke
that recorded Wildnerness (december 1995), with the neoclassical Wilderness Rising, Chinatown and Metheny's The Night You Were Born.
He ended his career with an album of standards, Young at Heart (ooctober 1996).
Tony Williams died in 1997 of a heart attack.
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