When drummer Tony Williams died of a heart attack on February 23, 1997, at the relatively young age of 51, it was a tremendous loss for straight-ahead post-bop and hard bop as well as for fusion. Williams had numerous acoustic jazz credentials (including his contributions to Miles Davis' legendary mid-‘60s quintet), and his band Lifetime was one of the most important fusion outfits of the ‘70s. The late drummer's fusion side is what electric guitarist Allan Holdsworth, electric bassist Jimmy Haslip (of Yellowjackets fame), keyboardist Alan Pasqua, and drummer Chad Wackerman pay tribute to on Blues for Tony, an excellent two-CD set that was recorded live in 2007. Forming a quartet, the improvisers remember Williams not by trying to sound like a carbon copy of Lifetime, but rather by celebrating the overall spirit of Williams' fusion output. Holdsworth, in fact, worked with Williams when he replaced John McLaughlin as Lifetime's guitarist in 1975; it was a brief association (Holdsworth left Lifetime the following year), although certainly a noteworthy one. And like Lifetime, this quartet (which performs mostly material by Holdsworth and Pasqua) demonstrates that being influenced by rock and funk and making extensive use of electric instruments doesn't mean that a group cannot maintain a jazz mentality. In fact, Blues for Tony thrives on a jazz mentality. Improvisation and spontaneity prevail, and even though Blues for Tony is by no means straight-ahead acoustic jazz, the quartet's amplified performances can easily be described as "the sound of surprise" (to borrow a term coined by the late jazz critic Whitney Balliett). These performances underscore the fact that -- contrary to what myopic jazz purists and bop snobs would have us believe -- fusion is not pseudo-jazz. Fusion is authentic jazz, but it's authentic jazz for people who also appreciate rock and funk. Blues for Tony is an album that fusion lovers shouldn't miss.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2