The second album by bassist Ben Williams could also be called “State Of The Art Vol. 2” relating to the name of his first one. There is some Miles Davis/Lonnie Liston Smith vibe on the funky opener “Black Villain Music” (more of that!), finest modern jazz with some great guitar playing by Matthew Stevens (who also has a new album out on his own called “Woodwork”) and also by pianist Christian Sands in “Strength And Beauty” and amazingly sexy Fender Rhodes on the soulful “Half Steppin'”. The latter comes across as a mix between a Weather Report/Wayne Shorter tune and Jaco Pastorius. Marcus Strickland on saxophone and John Davis on drums really keep the track enthralling. But the driving force here is the warm, intoxicating sound of the Rhodes.
“Voice Of Freedom” is dedicated to Nelson Mandela and features the vocals of Goapele. Complete with a South African vibe by saxophonist Strickland and a catchy hook by co-composer Masayuki Hirano who also plays Rhodes on the cut. The band stretches out on “Toy Soldiers”, which has a reprise later in the album with spoken words by W. Ellington Felton. The track starts out as a march and later develops into finest Pat Metheny fusion jazz.
A cover version of singer Lianne La Havas‘s beautiful ballad “Lost & Found” features the muted trumpet of Christian Scott. A four-piece string quartet only adds some more romanticism to this already lovely track. “Forecast” is probably the most open track on offer here and once again reminds me of the best Fusion records à la Weather Report. On another fine ballad, “The Color Of My Dreams”, Ben uses the string quartet again and vibraphonist Stefon Harris to underline the eerie elegancy here. The song has some fine tension and release aspects to it.
The bass solo on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” showcases Ben as a very lyrical and original artist, staying true to the Nirvana classic. The title track ends this spectacular album and not only displays Ben as one of the best contemporary bass players around, but also as a brilliant composer. After a somewhat billowing start, Christian opens the tune up with his piano making room for Marcus and some of the most beefy playing on the album which perfectly combines elements of the Pat Metheny Unity Group and NEXT Collective, both of which feature this exceptional bass player and composer.
Ben Williams plays Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia on June 13th, An Die Musik in Baltimore on June 19th, The Falcon in Marlboro, NY on June 20th, and the Skidmore Jazz Series in Saratoga Springs on July 7th.