Tony Williams Lifetime: Beyond Games
Tony Williams Lifetime
Emergency (Polydor 849 068-2)
Composed by Tony Williams.
Recorded: New York, May 1969
Rating: 80/100 (learn more)
Someday I will very carefully ask John McLaughlin what he thought about Tony Williams's singing. There was a more democratic view of vocalists for a period back in the '60s. It was all about expressing yourself. Fans were willing to accept some voices that weren't necessarily the purest. (Bob Dylan, anyone?) Nevertheless, someone should have stopped Tony.
"Beyond Games" is an early fusion-blues-shuffle ballad played the way only Lifetime could. Williams's cross-rhythms keep a busy time. McLaughlin's distorted guitar supplies off-kilter minor chords, jangled single-note runs and dissonant harmonics. Somehow he finds a groove you can hook onto. Full chords from the great organist Larry Young serve as a dark reinforcement. This power trio had all the weapons. And they used them LOUDLY. Unfortunately, their sonic assault cost them commercial success.
We must return to Williams's vocals. They are so bad that at times we can let our guard down and believe they are sung out of a charming naiveté. But his non-melodious vocals hang in the air like a foul stench. I am truly sorry to say that. What about his lyrics? They are really quite silly too. Williams was one of the greatest drummers who ever lived. He was also a trailblazer who never quite got the acknowledgment he deserved. But he never should have tried to sing. His vocalizing efforts really don't diminish anything he ever accomplished because they were quickly forgotten in the barrage. But sometimes less is more. His legacy would probably be even stronger if he had not interrupted some seminal music by trying to sing.
My rating is based upon a 92 for the instrumental performance and a -15 for Williams's vocal efforts. I add three more points for Williams's balls (or misplaced vanity) to sing in the first place.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky