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The Tony Williams Tribute Band, featuring Jack Bruce (Cream), John Medeski (Mediski, Martin & Wood ...), Vernon Reid, and Cindy Blackman (Santana, Lenny Kravitz), plays

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Today Reverb Recommends You Get to Know Tony Williams, "One of the Most Influential Jazz Musicians of the Last Half-Century"

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The Tony Williams Tribute Band, featuring Jack Bruce (Cream), John Medeski (Mediski, Martin & Wood ...), Vernon Reid, and Cindy Blackman (Santana, Lenny Kravitz), plays Jazz Alley on Feb. 7 and 8.
Two of the first CDs I ever owned were given to my by my dad when I was a teenager. Whenever he was in Chicago for business he made a habit of hitting the enormous Virgin Megastore on Michigan Avenue. One time he came home and handed me a pair of CDs: John Coltrane's Crescent and Tony Williams Lifetime's The Collection (which was a repackaging of the albums Million Dollar Legs and Believe It). I devoured the records in a way that can only be done by a curious kid with only a handful of CDs on his shelf. Both albums were very important to me during a time when I was just starting to discover music for myself.

I still listen to that copy of Crescent on an almost weekly basis. But for the life of me I cannot find that Lifetime record. Several weeks ago, when I saw that the Tony Williams Tribute band (lead by Cream's Jack Bruce) is coming to Jazz Alley on Feb. 7 and 8, I reaquainted myself with the pioneering fusion band. It's still incredible stuff (hear a bit after the jump).

Not so long after I'd made Crescent and The Collection part of my daily regime, my old man returned from another road trip, only this time he didn't return with a CD, but a copy of The New York Times. "Oh, cool, a story about Tony Williams," I said. Sadly, it was his obituary. Rarely has music been captured so beautifully on paper as in the notice by The Times' Peter Watrous:

Early in his career he was a master of the ride cymbal. He liked a clean, spare sound evoking the slight sizzle of fat in a frying pan, and often moved abruptly between light and cluttered textures. And in his swing, Mr. Williams was utterly committed. There was a sense, in his early music, that he was completely taken by velocity and forward motion.

As part of the Davis quintet's rhythm section, with Herbie Hancock on piano and Ron Carter on bass, Mr. Williams radically changed the way a band worked. In his hands tempos were pliable, and he was comfortable halfing and doubling the pulse, plying the emotional implications of elastic tempos.

Along with his band mates, Mr. Williams took group improvisation further than it had gone before, developing structural improvisations that made the form of a tune seem finally irrelevant to the music. Thirty years later, his early playing is still striking for its audacity; his capacity to listen, to hear within the group and augment the musical conversation, seemed unbounded.

See, before Williams became a pioneer of fusion, he was recruited to play with Miles Davis when he was 17. In addition to his work with Davis and Lifetime, he also played drums for John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Limited. Yeah, he was a drummer who could swing with Miles Davis and hang with the Sex Pistols.

No wonder there's a tribute band.

 
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