JJ 10/92: Tony Williams – The Story Of Neptune

Thirty years ago, Richard Palmer was astonished to find the brainy, discerning and always swinging drummer covering Lennon & McCartney. First published in Jazz Journal October 1992


I have always admired Williams, not just as a stupendous drummer but as a musical brain of great intelligence and discernment. Over the last 30 years, nearly everything he has tried has come off – no mean feat when one con­siders how cerebrally demanding much of his work is.

This is a CD of two halves, as Jimmy Greaves might say. Tracks 1-3 form Williams’s Neptune Suite – a challenging work; 4-7 are more relaxed (though still abso­lutely committed) and easier on ear and brain alike. On the lovely Blackbird – to my astonishment, it turns out to be a Lennon & McCart­ney opus – we are treated to superior solos by both horns and the admirable Miller, while the 10-minute Poinciana is as good as any version of the song I’ve heard, with Roney especially impressive. Wil­liams’s Crime Scene is a sonorous semi-ballad with a most intriguing melody line that again brings out the best in all the soloists, while Hubbard’s Birdlike is an appro­priately exhilarating closer.

The three-part Neptune is not easy listening, but it’s extremely rewarding. Overture has a fiercely staccato theme, and builds in intensity to Tony’s brief but bril­liant solo; Fear Not opens some haunting a capella bars from Cole­man before seguing into a minor-key theme of great attractiveness; the interplay between the horns is exquisite, and both take excellent solos as well. Finally Creatures Of Conscience returns us to Over­ture‘s urgent staccato style: the movement threatens to be frantic without ever becoming so, creat­ing a tension that makes the impeccable playing even more satisfying.

No matter how difficult, Wil­liams’s music has always swung irresistibly; as a result, what is essentially ‘brain music’ also offers you a very good time throughout.

Neptune: Overture; Neptune: Fear Not; Neptune: Creatures Of Con­science; Blackbird; Crime Scene; Poinciana; Birdlike (45.17)
Wallace Roney (t); Bill Pierce (ts/ss); Mulgrew Miller (p); Ira Coleman (b); Tony Williams (d). NYC, November 29, 30 & December 1, 1991.
(Blue Note CDP 7 98169 2)