Bernie Williams

The Journey Within

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Take note! If there's one lively Latin-flavored guitar jazz disc by an all-star center fielder you must listen to this year, make it this one. Don't do it however, just for the novelty of a .300 career-hitting New York Yankee legend making music for a hometown-based label, but because his hobby comes loaded with great melodic ideas and some buoyant, snappy playing. No doubt many critics will see this as a sports celebrity vanity project, and much will be made of all the top musicians who jumped into the fray (Béla Fleck, David Sancious, T-Bone Wolk, Luis Conte), but Williams truly holds his own. The opening track, "La Salsa en Mi," is feisty Latin jamming with an instantly catchy melody, and sets a lofty standard that some of the mellower tracks simply can't match. High-spirited exotic sessions like that and the percussion-intense "Desvelado" run rings around more conventional but still engaging light funk-jazz tracks like "The Way" and the lush ballad "Just Because," whose contribution by labelmate pianist David Benoit is surprisingly subtle. Those who like simple fingerstyling may most enjoy the interlude "Samba Novo," while pop fans may best enjoy the mainstream readings of "Dust in the Wind" and Billy Joel's plaintive "And So It Goes." The best evidence that Williams can funk out as well as he can do salsa (remember, he's a native Puerto Rican) is the turbocharged fusion jam "Stranded on the Bridge." In contemporary jazz circles, Wayman Tisdale has made a successful move from basketball to bass. When Bernie Williams retires, more discs like this will ensure that he's more than a one-shot deal.

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