Buster Williams – Audacity (Smoke Sessions)

is among the character traits that define the most successful creative artists. And Buster Williams, a bassist whose work has been essential to a long list of top-shelf recordings during the post-bop period, remains justifiably audacious. At 76, he’s back with a project that again demonstrates his assured playing and knack for penning strong springboards for Something More, his working quartet with alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist George Colligan and drummer Lenny White.

The album represents Williams’ first time leading a studio session since 2004’s Griot Libertè, also with Colligan and White. The four waste no time launching into the good stuff, opening with modal gem “Where Giants Dwell.” The tune’s classic-sounding alto melody rides atop interlocking swing before Wilson bolts off into his first solo excursion, an improvisation that effectively builds over pushing and pulling rhythms. The laid-back, soprano-led “Song of the Outcasts,” gently undulating before shifting to more energetic cross-cutting rhythms, nods to Eastern European Gypsy music, while the stately “Triumph” cycles through multiple themes. The zippy title track affords plenty of solo space for Wilson and Colligan, ample room for one of Williams’ most impressive improvisations, and an extended trap-kit build-up.

Two pretty ballads, “Ariana Anai” and “Briana,” are dedicated to Williams’ granddaughters. And his bandmates contribute tunes, too. On Wilson’s “Sisko,” his alto climbs and descends a stair-stepping melody before lighting into a fierce solo, at one point squaring off with White, sans bass and piano. For Colligan’s “Lost on 4th Avenue,” Williams’ beefy bass zigs and zags, improvising a series of probing declarative statements before the start of the wandering sax-piano unison and harmony melody. The aptly named Audacity marks an overdue return from a genuine standard bearer.— Philip Booth    

The Authoritative Voice in Jazz