Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency

I always have felt a bit sorry for Tony Williams. Here was a truly gifted artist who as a 17-year-old kid was playing drums for the great Miles Davis. After a few years, based upon a foresightful musical vision, he formed the jazz-rock trailblazing Tony Williams Lifetime. Perhaps even more than Miles Davis, Tony deserved acknowledgement for being a major forerunner of the fusion genre. But he never got credit for it. Among musicians, he was admired far and wide. Yet the commercial success that other contemporaries found would never come his way. I have met a few people who knew Tony, and they have indicated this bothered him his whole life. Williams certainly made a ton of bad musical and business decisions over the years that prevented him from becoming the popular solo artist he had wanted to be. Even so, this early work should have been recognized in its time to a much greater degree.

"Emergency" featured a chugging Williams, a skittering-bluesy John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young, who was playing his B-3 more like it was an early synthesizer, squeezing out sounds never before heard. This was untamed music, full of blistering runs and sudden stops and starts. From time to time the music slows to a crawl, enabling all sorts of spatial texture. Have I mentioned how awful the sound was? It was terrible! All of the instruments suffered from major distortion. This was not totally on purpose. But in a way, the sound problems gave the music an even wilder sense of abandon. Years later, punkers and jam bands would try to sound like this! While not all of this music is pleasant to listen to, that doesn't mean it wasn't good or important. It can get a little ugly when you're trying to break through. I suppose that's why some trailblazers never get their due. Perhaps with the recent success of Trio Beyond, the band put together by John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette and Larry Goldings to honor The Tony Williams Lifetime, Tony's contributions will be more widely appreciated.

February 22, 2008 · 1 comment


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