Larry Willis' second CD for HighNote is a provocative affair, alternating between a trio and quintet as the pianist takes a fresh look at well-known pieces, along with more recent compositions by participants on the date. Bassist Eddie Gómez and drummer Billy Drummond make up an interactive rhythm section, rather than just a backup role. Part of the appeal of the trio selections is the fluid setting of the songs: Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning" opens with a drum solo and Drummond continues to have a prominent role in the piece, while Gómez plays the latter half of the modal theme of "Nardis" in the opening chorus with the leader behind him. Of course, "Nardis" is familiar territory to the bassist, who performed it on countless occasions during his 11 years with pianist Bill Evans, while Willis puts his personal stamp on it by altering chords and creating a very moody, tense feeling. Trombonist Steve Davis and alto saxophonist Joe Ford are added for the other half of the session, with Willis' driving piano leading the way through Jackie McLean's "Blue Fable." Each member of the front line also contributed an original to the date. Willis' "Insidious Behavior" is an amusing blues that has a playful spirit. Ford's "Landscape" is a challenging post-bop vehicle that never follows the expected route, while Davis' "Prayer for New Orleans" is a post-Hurricane Katrina work that begins in a solemn manner, then suddenly changes direction and becomes a midtempo cooker. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden