Wikipedia: “Tony Williams was born in Chicago and grew up in Boston. He studied with drummer Alan Dawson at an early age and began playing professionally at the age of 13 with saxophonist Sam Rivers. At 17 Williams gained attention by joining Miles Davis in what was later dubbed Davis’s Second Great Quintet.
Williams was a vital element of the group, called by Davis in his autobiography “the center that the group’s sound revolved around.” He recorded his first two albums as leader for Blue Note label, Life Time(1964) and Spring (1965).
In 1969, he formed a trio, the Tony Williams Lifetime, with John McLaughlin on guitar and Larry Young on organ. Lifetime was a pioneering band of the fusion movement.”
So, enough said about Willams’ overall legacy. (He died in 1997 of a heart attack at the age of 51.) I’ll mostly focus on his Lifetime work and squeeze in some Miles as well.
Of the 1969 album Emergency! – the one with McLaughlin and Young, AllMusic says, “Williams pushed into new territory, creating dense, adventurous, unpredictable soundscapes. With Emergency!, Tony Williams helped create the foundation of the style and sound of fusion. It’s a seminal release.”
My biggest problem with Emergency! is that Williams chose to add vocals which aren’t singing so much as him talking through some of the tunes. Maybe that sounded like a good idea at the time but I just find it distracting. Nevertheless, it’s too important an album to just ignore and there’s some really good stuff.
First up, the title track.
Jack Bruce joined the band for some rousing shit on a 1970 album called (Turn it Over). As AllMusic states, “the temporary addition of ex-Cream member Jack Bruce on bass and vocals alongside stalwart guitarist John McLaughlin makes this something of a milestone of British progressive jazz.” Indeed. Is this rock or is this jazz? My buddy Steve calls it rock and roll to the max.
This tune is called “To Whom it May Concern – Them.”
If you can say anything about Lifetime definitively, it’s that it had a continuously rotating cast of (great) characters. In this iteration, Williams is joined by bassist Stanley Clarke and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. This is from some French gig in 1972 and I don’t believe they ever recorded an album. If you can’t see this video, try going to YouTube and searching for Tony Williams Life Time Experience 1972:
Wikipedia: “In spring 1975, Williams put together a quartet he called The New Tony Williams Lifetime featuring bassist Tony Newton, pianist Alan Pasqua, and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Prior to settling on Tony Newton as the choice for bass player, a number of bassists auditioned for the spot including Jaco Pastorius. (How the fuck did they reject him?)
This lineup recorded two albums for Columbia/CBS Records, Believe It in 1975 and Million Dollar Legs in 1976. These albums were reissued on one CD in 1992 as Lifetime: The Collection.
From that collection – with the late, great Allan Holdsworth on guitar – this is “Proto-Cosmos:”
And for just one more tune, in case your brain is now fusioned, I will leave you with a cut from the classic 1968 album Miles in the Sky. In addition to Williams and Miles, the personnel include Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. (George Benson plays on one cut.)