Jun 24, 2015
We haven’t had a good jazz super-group in a couple of years now. The last time I could really put that tag on a group was the Five Peace Band, led by pianist Chick Corea and guitar legend John McLaughlin, who formed their first group together since playing with Miles Davis decades earlier. They added Kenny Garrett on saxophone, Christian McBride on bass, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums for a terrific one-off album and tour.
This year’s candidate for super-group status comes from the appropriately named Heads of State. After years of playing in various combinations, we finally get a working band of saxophonist Gary Bartz, bassist Buster Williams (both Herbie Hancock alumni), pianist Larry Willis and drummer extraordinaire Al Foster. Their debut album, Searching for Peace, is a wonderful mix of standards and Bartz originals, played by masters at the tops of their games. The band will be headlining some of the biggest festivals this summer, including stops at the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Main Stage at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival on Sunday June 29th.
I spoke with Buster Williams about the group, and he shared his enthusiasm for the working band. Williams is among our most durable and innovative bass players, mastering the art of double bass accompaniment for singers like Dakota Staton, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and Betty Carter; and holding down the groove for artists like McCoy Tyner, Dexter Gordon, Roy Ayers, Stanley Turrentine, and his early mentors, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. He backed Miles Davis, and then with Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi Sextet, he helped revolutionize electric bass playing with classics like “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.” Williams was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work with pianist Hank Jones and drummer Tony Williams on Love For Sale, the first of Jones’ records credited to the appropriately named "The Great Jazz Trio."
Podcast 486 is my conversation with Buster, as he talks not only about the new CD, but recalls the recoding of a number of his great back catalogue, including the classic Jewel in the Lotus CD with Bernie Maupin. Musical selections include “Impressions”, “Crazy She Calls Me” and the Bartz-penned “Uncle Bubba” from Searching for Peace; “Past is Past” from Jewel in the Lotus; the title track from Herbie Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda; and Nancy Wilson signing the blues on “(They Call It) Stormy Monday” from her Something Wonderful CD.