Tony Williams, who opened at Catalina Bar & Grill Tuesday and continues through Sunday, is known worldwide as a drummer of rare ingenuity. But less well known is his composing talent, though it was well showcased as he galvanized his quintet into a series of performances marked by energy and dynamic diversity.
Except for the Lennon-McCartney “Blackbird,” everything was a Williams original, often introduced with a driving solo by the leader before the two horns (Wallace Roney on trumpet, Bill Pierce on tenor and soprano sax) stated the theme, generally in unison.
The powerful opener “Warriors,” which had Pierce breathing fire on tenor, was followed by a Latin-tinged piece, “Geo Rose,” to which pianist Mulgrew Miller lent an Afro-Cuban touch. Miller was a joy, whether soloing or simply backing and filling behind the horns. The solid underpinning by Ira Coleman’s bass held the unit together.
An extended performance of “Citadel” was most remarkable, built mainly around Miller, who wove in and out of tonality, sometimes using dramatic, suspenseful pedal-point effects. The horns came in later to supply a slightly anti-climactic series of whole notes. Miller, whose credits include three years with Art Blakey, has risen to the top rank among contemporary acoustic pianists.
The set ended with “Life of the Party,” an engaging work that seemed to conjure up a picture of carnival time in Brazil.
Tony Williams the drummer has been a major figure in jazz for 30 years, since he joined Miles Davis at age 17. Williams the composer deserves comparable recognition.