Having orchestrated a number of features on stellar saxophonist Steve Williamson in Straight No Chaser and been instrumental in taking his band, That Fuss Was Us’ to play in Japan, I have no qualms in saying that I am a fan… a believer in what this man has to offer.
It was a blistering, late night performance of Steve Williamson’s That Fuss Was Us, at Gold in Tokyo, that was instrumental in getting the hard core Japanese Jazz establishment to take the nu-generation of UK based jazz warriors seriously. Basically, the senior editor of Japan’s most prestigious jazz journal described their performance at Gold as the most thrilling session he’d seen since witnessing the debut of Miles Davis’ electric band.
A crucial member of the Jazz Warriors in the mid 1980s, Steve Williamson record three superlative solo albums, ‘Waltz For Grace’, ‘Rhyme Time [That Fuss Was Us]’ and ‘Journey To Truth’. Each of these albums is endowed with an abundance of challenging compositional ideas and an approach to rhythm that reflects Steve’s affinity to Hip Hop and the NYC M-Base movement as well as his passion for African music and his own Jamaican heritage.
However, life is never simple and some it takes a toll more than others. As such, Steve has had a tendency to vanish off the radar and though it seemed a little weird at first, the news that Gary Crosby’s Tomorrow’s Warriors Jazz Orchestra is set to celebrate the music of Steve at the RFH has to be cause for celebration.
“For me… and anyone around the Jazz Warriors… we accepted he was the one! We knew he was a genius.” declares Gary Crosby – bassist and artistic director of Tomorrow’s Warriors – and it’s his commitment to Williamson as a pivotal figure in the evolution of the UK jazz scene that has led him to stage the South Bank performance.
“This performance is the first in a series celebrating great British jazz musicians. The Tomorrow’s Warriors Orchestra, is made up of young players like Peter Edwards, James Mackay and Binku Golding alongside experienced players like Denys Baptiste and Kevin Robinson. Myrna Hague is coming in from JA to sing ‘Waltz For Grace’. Interpreting Steve’s compositions is definitely a challenge and for this performance we will mostly take tracks from ‘Waltz For Grace’ plus one or two from the second album. Steve is a daring musician and these are adventurous charts for such a large ensemble.”
Apparently, Steve has dropped into the rehearsals a couple of times to have a listen. He gets on with “the juniors”, making the connections and delivering the word on what they need to know. Hopefully, the saxophonist will be present at the pre-concert conversation hosted by journalist/broadcaster Kevin Legendre. It will discuss the impact of Steve Williamson’s music and its relevance as a soundtrack to the late Eighties and Early Nineties.
I last saw Steve play in November 2009, during the London Jazz Festival. It was a small but packed gig at Charlie Wrights in Hoxton. It was a largely improvised set and Steve, who featured on tenor and soprano, was joined by UK avante garde stalwarts Roger Turner on drums , Pat Thomas on keys & electronics and by NYC based trumpeter Roy Campbell who has collaborated with David Murray, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and John Zorn. It was thrilling and exhilarating session that once more confirmed Steve as a fierce talent and I for one will be at the South Bank to check this ambitious tribute which aims to link generations and shine a light on a serious artist who has slipped into the shadows.
The Tomorrow’s Warriors Jazz Orchestra Play the Music of Steve Williamson
Saturday 23 July at 7:45pm,
Purcell Room, Southbank Centre,
London SE1 8XX
I missed the South Bank session but heard Steve Williamson for the first time in a long at Cafe Oto on 22/09/2011. Looking forward to hearing him at Ronnie Scott’s next month with Julian Joseph’s big band too.
Orphy tells me the Cafe Oto was blazing…. the last time I saw Steve really on point was at Charlie Wrights during the Jazz Festival a couple of years ago … it was “free” set and he was with Pat Thomas (who is a also remarkable) and powerhouse trumpet player Roy Porter. Jazz on 3 recorded it…. that was a night!
That said… Steve Williamson with That Fuss Was Us in Japan… now, that was extraordinary. I played ‘Journey To Truth’ (feat Jhelisa) a couple of nights back and it sounded amazing… check that out..