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Columns > Patrick Buzby

Published: 2009/03/27
by Pat Buzby

Angel Street

Mosaic Records caters to jazz collectors. Almost all of its releases are multi-CD or LP sets with the word “complete” in the title. And they have stayed in the game since the 80’s, somewhat surprising considering the state of the biz, especially in jazz.

One online group where I participate recently had a discussion about a Mosaic release of Tony Williams’s 80’s/early 90’s records on Blue Note. These were records I could have heard when they were new, and perhaps should have, but I didn’t. Those are the situations that make Mosaic possible, although, since these records were from the age of CD, some of them are still hanging around in serviceable form in libraries.

I used to attend a jazz jam session in Hyde Park. The house drummer there is a chatty type, and one night he and I got in a discussion about Tony Williams. He mentioned that Williams could be a temperamental guy in this Blue Note period, telling off club owners onstage and the like. I believe he also mentioned, as other drummers have reported, that Williams had ideas about drum size and mic techniques in this era that were more suited to arena rock than jazz.

This related to the online discussion I observed more recently. One guy who had the Mosaic set was not pleased with Williams’s approach, especially compared to his sound from the 60’s, and ended up selling the set.

However, the Hyde Park drummer also made it clear to me that Williams’s advanced drum thinking of the 60’s hadn’t subsided in these final years of his life. (Williams died in 1997.) He mentioned that when this Blue Note band played live, Williams would begin each set with a drum solo, and would sit onstage in silence for a minute or so at the beginning of each set, thinking about what to play. And the drum statement that followed would be worth the preparation.

With this in mind, I tracked down one disc from this Blue Note/Mosaic period, Angel Street. The themes, all written by Williams, are melodic, but not too far removed from the Marsalis neo-bop dominating the jazz discussion at that time. Neither is the playing of the rest of the band, although having the master drummer at the foundation seems to make everyone a notch more inspired than in other bands.

However, after hearing so many jazz CDs where everyone is trying hard to be “right,” Williams’s drumming here is especially fascinating. He both overplays and underplays, just hitting the cymbals for a few bars and then unleashing a huge tom fill. It is not what others would do. Not many others around now would have this courage.

Apparently these releases sold well enough for Williams to do six of them, but not enough to stay in print on Blue Note. Those are the situations that make Mosaic possible.

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