Thursday, February 21, 2013

Steve Williams and Jazz Nation

OA2 Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Steve Williams and Jazz Nation

Composer, arranger and saxophonist Steve Williams is another of the many individuals who is famous within the music world, but relatively unknown outside it. He’s a graduate of the University of North Texas — formally North Texas State University, an institution that has produced a number of great jazz musicians — and Florida State University; during his 35 years as a freelance musician, he has worked with, and done arrangement for, numerous name artists and orchestras. 

Because it’s no longer economically feasible to operate with a true “big band” these days, he formed Jazz Nation in 2010, comprising musicians in the Washington, D.C., area, as a vehicle for his original compositions and arrangements. This is that group’s debut release. 

Close your eyes, and you’ll be carried back to the days of Ellington, Herman and Kenton, followed by more recent orchestras led by Blakey, Cunliffe, Florence, Gillespie, Hawk-Richard, Jones and others. The ensemble features five reeds, eight brass, four rhythm players (including a guitar) and guest artist Eddie Daniels, on clarinet and tenor sax.

The album kicks off with “Certified,” and the opening two choruses, featuring the rhythm section, nailed me! Now, that’s the way some of those great old bands used to sound! Williams is more a traditionalist than a bopper, and he totally avoids the ultra-modernist style that so many young composers are producing. This band, and its members, truly swing! 

Williams’ charts are exceptional, all the soloists are excellent, and Daniels simply has no peers. Great clarinetists are all but extinct these days, and when you realize that Daniels also plays masterful tenor sax, you just sit in awe. 

I hope we’ll hear a lot more from Steve Williams and Jazz Nation.

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