Marty Williams – Long Time Comin’ – In Moon Bay Records, 71:19 ****:
(Marty Williams – piano, vocals; Eric Swinderman – guitar; Ruth Davies – bass; Jon Evans – bass; Ranzel Merritt – drums)
Jazz vocalists have struggled for acceptance. Key changes, tempo shifts and spontaneity make it challenging for any singer. Marty Williams is one who has accepted the challenge. A staple on the Bay area jazz scene, Williams blends his soulful vocals with deft piano licks in interpreting many genres of music. He has admitted to getting a “calling” to be a musician after listening to Ahmad Jamal’s Voices album. Among his many influences are Les McCann, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Brown Jr., Hampton Hawes, Shirley Horn, Ramsey Lewis and Miles Davis. For over twenty-five years, his reputation as a jazz player has evolved.
His latest release, Long Time Comin’, is an accessible project covering a variety of composers. The jazzy side emerges on “Falling In Love With Love Again”. With idiosyncratic vocals that bring to mind Louis Armstrong, the quartet backs him up flawlessly. The syncopated piano licks are economical and fit the mood. Selecting the iconic arrangement of the Les McCann/Eddie Harris rendition of “Compared To What” might seem impudent, but Williams brings his smooth vibe to the song. The piano runs are refined, not intended to compete with prior versions. A bluesy aesthetic permeates the sound. A clever take on John Lennon’s Beatles classic, “Come Together” is slower and funk-infused. Wah wah guitar pedal (Eric Swinderman) complements the piano hooks. “Mercy Mercy, Mercy” (Josef Zawinul) gets the signature fluid treatment and fits the band’s style. Williams has arranged the songs to showcase a low-key bluesy approach.
There is a deep emotional resonance in many of the cuts. The standout “Brother (Where Are You?)” (Oscar Brown Jr.) has a mournful sentiment. Swinderman’s guitar solo is fluid and the piece recalls the reflective narratives of 1970s soul. The reinvention of Bobby Hebb’s AM hit, “Sunny”, as a late night jazz sketch is interesting. Williams’ piano accompaniment is subtle but emotive. He adds some rhythmic chording to change the structure. Many of the tracks are extended and offer the group ample opportunity to jam. “Monk’s Dream” maintains a funky edge, but delivers a straight ahead, traditional jazz interpretation. Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” has a breeziness that is captured by the depth of the arrangement. Each song is adapted to Williams’ intuitive harmonics.
Marty Williams Long Time Comin’ is a step forward for jazz vocals.
TrackList: Brother (Where Are You); Caravan; Come Together; Compared To What; Falling In Love Again; Love For Sale; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Monk’s Dream; On A Clear Day; Sunny; Sweet And Lovely; The Look Of Love
— Robbie Gerson