Larry Willis

The Offering

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On his third date for Highnote, pianist Larry Willis makes only one personnel change, replacing Joe Ford's alto with Eric Alexander's tenor, leaving the rhythm section of Eddie Gómez and Billy Drummond intact. As is his wont, Willis explores a program of unusual tunes, both covers and originals that offer a wonderfully idiosyncratic view of both jazz and pop music. For starters, there's the title cut by bassist Santi Debriano (who recorded it on his own Obeah album on Free Lance in 1987). The knotty Afro-Cuban pulse and melodic line are opened up toward the modal from the inside by Willis with his wonderful two-chord attack, and the pianist's solo is followed directly by a tight drum solo from Drummond. This is followed by Willis' own "TD's Tune," with a slightly angular dissonance that becomes a romantic ballad tinged with Spanish flamenco modalities before transforming itself into a killer midtempo noir-ish groover. Willis' fills and trills around Alexander's head before Gómez solos in the first minute and a half are remarkable. His "Ethiopia" is sparse and haunting, with its spacious, hovering lyric line played arco by Gómez as he paints the frame with dark and somber colors. It is immediately followed by the knotty post-bop of "The Rock," another original that showcases Alexander coming right out of the head into a taut yet loping solo. Willis' own playing behind Alexander is equal parts harmonic counterpart and rhythmic counterpoint, as he moves against the rest of the rhythm section. It's a breathtakingly complex and hard swinging tune. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the finger-popping version of "Theme from Star Trek," with Willis adding all sorts of harmonic extensions onto the familiar lines as Alexander plays it somewhat straight before they turn the thing inside out without losing any of its swing. Once more Willis proves that he is not only a truly gifted pianist of complexity and depth, but one with a startling array of tools at his disposal as an arranger and bandleader. While jazz fans may know his work well, he should be recognized as one of the consistently great soloists of our time. Among musicians, Willis is considered a true master, and it's time the general jazz populace discovered that as well. The Offering is another high-class, musically arresting date by an innovator.

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