Tony Williams Lifetime

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.

Spotify link

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.”

Spotify link

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:”

Spotify link

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.)

Spotify link

 

 

63 thoughts on “Tony Williams Lifetime

  1. You have curated a fabulous Tony Williams playlist there, Jim. There is a savagery in some of the ‘lifetime’ music that is quite startling. Exciting stuff, that early material (though I tend to agree about the, er vocals).
    There is a fabulous album by Trio Beyond (Jack De Johnette, John Scofield, Larry Giddings) called Saudades that pays tribute to Williams (and particularly) Lifeline. Reckon you might love it!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll 2nd that recommendation for the Trio Beyond album. In a word, it’s beyond fantastic, and it features another great drummer, and a guitarist you’d want to follow as a guitar player yourself. Larry Goldings is the young gun here, and he is a fantastic B-3 player who should make Larry Young proud. This album is one of the more relatively recent gems in a vast and storied ECM catalog full of gems. Here are some links to convince you further, and to make sure you know what you’re looking for::

        https://www.allmusic.com/album/saudades-mw0000538439

        https://www.ecmrecords.com/catalogue/143038752541/saudades-trio-beyond-jack-dejohnette-john-scofield-larry-goldings

        Best of luck, and keep up the good work!

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        1. Thanks for coming by. Hmm, did I listen to Saudades? I thought I did after it was recommended. Maybe I got busy and forgot. I’ll spin that for sure.

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    1. Listening to this now. Great stuff. Who knew my post would lead to this find? CB’s digging it too although he pronounced it also to be weird. But I think we both know he was talking about himself.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Until he spun off and went in a jazz direction, McLaughlin was very much part of that relatively small, tight-knit London scene of the early-to-mid-Sixties. Fascinating tidbit here from his Wikipedia page:

      “He moved to London in the early 1960’s, playing with Alexis Korner before moving on to Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, the Graham Bond Organisation and Brian Auger During the 1960’s, he often supported himself with session work, which he often found unsatisfying but which enhanced his playing and sight-reading. Also, he gave guitar lessons to Jimmy Page. (!) In 1963, Jack Bruce formed the Graham Bond Quartet with Bond, Ginger Baker and John McLaughlin. They played an eclectic range of music genres, including bebop, blues and rhythm and blues.”

      I wrote about Korner before in a post I called “The Nexus of British Blues” which he absolutely was.

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  2. We’ve talked about this music before and your buddy Steve’s quote (I love it). I totally got lost in this music when I found it (through Bruce and John Mac). I would lock in and stay with it. Listen to nothing else. Problem is when I hear it today I binge on it (not really a problem). I’m digging the first cut as I one finger type.
    I remember sending you a cut (Are You The One) off a John Mac album with Williams and Bruce laying it down. I love those guys together. Larry Young put out some great stuff also. For a while I was Williams/Cobham crazy. I love drummers especially drummers like Tony.
    I’m going to check out that tribute Bruce commented about. Listening to the second cut. That is some good shit. Onto the Clarke/Ponty cut. It just keeps getting better. I’d love to get a hold of some of this. I’ve seen and heard lots of Ponty. This is probably the best I’ve heard. What a find! Nothing against Jaco but there are lots of great bass players in that world and who knows what Williams was hearing?
    I’m signing off with the last cut taking me out. Great post fella!

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    1. I was thinking about CB when writing this. I kinda thought we had talked about some of this crew but couldn’t remember specifically. But I figured either way, CB would be all over this. Isn’t that Ponty/Clarke video some deep shit? Report back of you hit that tribute soon. Love to hear your thoughts on that one.

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      1. I’m listening to it right now. It’s kinda eerie. That cut Bruce was noting just came up It is really good stuff. After listening to all those cuts you posted its seamless. Jack is pretty good on the skins also. Scofield is no slouch.
        I told you when I get in this groove I’m gone. You and Bruce have both been throwing me some good stuff. A lot of Bitches Brew going on in this cut.
        The Ponty/Clarke thing is wicked. Williams must have inspired the hell out of both of them. I thought Ponty was going to over heat.

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        1. Listened to a fair bit of it today. Excellent. For a guitarist I don’t listen to a whole hell of a lot of jazz guitar. So it’s nice to hear Scofield. I saw him once in a small club in NYC real close up. Me and a table full of spirited college guys. The only tune I didn’t much care for was ‘Spectrum’ which was a bunch of outside shit.

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        2. Scofield has some funky stuff. I like him a lot. Problem is, there is so much more music out there and a guy like him is so hard to keep up with. Prolific guy.
          Like I said you and Bruce have me on this jag now. I’m on a 24 hour bender and counting.

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        3. Heh! Of course, that one was supposed to be a sing along. The ones that drive me crazy are where you go to a show, or worse, are listening on the radio and the singer turns the whole song into a sing along. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to turn off the Petty and Springsteen channels due to endless “whoa-oh-ohs” or whatever. If I go to a show, I’m not paying good money to hear Joe truckdriver sing along. Mick never hands the mic over to the masses.

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        4. I love when Willie lets me belt out “Whiskey River take my mind ..” All part of the show for some acts. But I hear you when we are doing our casual listening.
          (Speaking of Mick (good one on hogging the mich Mick. I like that). Just watched ‘Performance’ the other night. I’d seen it years ago. Good idea that could have been better in CB’s opinion).

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        5. Sometimes Mick gives the mic over to Keith, a mixed blessing at best. I never did see ‘Performance’ but was always aware of it. ‘Memo from Turner’ is a song I once featured and is one of my favorites. “Didn’t I see you down in San Antone on that hot and dusty night? You were eating eggs in Sammy’s with the black man who drew his knife.” I wish Mick would sing that shit live. But that would piss off the tourists who would worry it might steal the ‘Satisfaction’ slot.

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        6. I actually like Keiths vocals a lot. ‘Memo From Turner’ is Mick’s best moment in the film. That was one of the scenes that stuck with me when I first saw it. That movie could have hit a home run with some different choices. But what the hell does a burnout like CB know?

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        7. Keith is good in small doses. He has a certain rakish charm. But I couldn’t take a full night of him. Funny story. Years ago I won some radio contest to see Keef’s band in a small joint. I grabbed a buddy and we went. Only to find out it was a movie. I felt like a real asshole. Embarrassing.

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        8. I think I finally made up for it recently when I took that same guy – free – to see a Cream tribute band. I’m not 100% sure he remembers the Keith thing so we’ll leave it at that.

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        9. I know you and Christian do the tribute band thing. It just never has grabbed me. From what you guys have exposed me to there is no doubt some of them have the chops. I would like to hear some of their original stuff. I bet they have some good musical ideas.

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        10. I can understand your reluctance to see a tribute band. If they’re so good, you’re probably thinking, why don’t they do their own stuff? Who knows? Maybe they tried and it didn’t work out. And so their choice is between playing in some seedy bar or making some good coin in a tribute band. They know which side their bread is buttered on I suppose.

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        1. Who is CB, really? He showed up one day on my blog. He is a man of mystery, a man no one really knows. Is he really Canadian? Or a foreign agent? Perhaps even a pre=programmed bot. No one can say for sure…

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        2. If the truth be know he is a “Double Knot Spy” working the rodeo circuit in Texas doing a little tent preaching, rolling cigarettes one handed, pulling on a jug of shine and rasslin anything he sees. Oh yeah and while he’s doing all that he’s blasting Foghat or whatever he has in the case on the 8 Track. Answer your question there Doc?

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  3. Next recommendation: Speaking of tribute bands (I noticed you mentioning a Cream one above), check out the Tony Williams Lifetime tribute band called Spectrum Road with Vernon Reid on guitar, Jack Bruce (bass and vocals), John Medeski (B-3 organ) (he has played often with Scofield too) and Cindy Blackman-Santana on drums. They also put out one self-titled album on Palmetto Records.
    Killer stuff. Here they are with Johnny Mac sitting in:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually saw two Cream tribute bands, one of which I wrote about, both of which were anchored by Ginger Baker’s son. I’m gonna go listen to that Spectrum Road thing and report back. It’s funny but I’m taking a Master Class (it’s not really) from Carlos and in one of the lessons he shows a video of his wife wailing away on the skins.

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    2. Just listened. Wow, that is some hot shit. I just did a “Favorite Drummers” list and Cindy’s playing makes me think she could/should be on that list. What an A-list lineup that was. Old chums Bruce and McLaughlin looked pretty old. 2012, so just two years before Bruce passed away. And I had no idea Vernon Reid was a jazzer. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad you enjoyed it! Vernon Reid was indeed a stalwart on the Downtown NYC scene before he attained any sort of fame, playing in avant bands in the Knitting Factory and the like. As a matter of fact, before deciding on what would become the lineup they went to war with, Living Colour was more of a nouveau jazz band, featuring some of the hot NYC players on the scene. For my money, what they became is a band that could literally play anything, and are easily the most talented band to hit the rock scene in the last 30 years. You should look into their drummer, Will Calhoun. Now, THAT’S a drummer 🙂 Cindy Blackman is a beast! She’s put out a few good solo albums of her own, and has played and recorded with some seriously bad-ass jazzers throughout her entire career.

        Regarding John McLaughlin – he may look old, but he’s still one of my fave guitarists. Second only to that raging heartless venal leader, Robert Fripp. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, yeah. Saw him back in the day with Mahavishnu. I’m still kicking myself that I missed him not too long ago when he came to town on his final tour. I had no idea he was coming till after I read another blogger. This retirement seems legit. Sadly, he says he’s developing arthritis.

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        2. Between ‘Trio Beyond’ (Bruces recommendation) and all this, looks like I’ll be staying on this train for a while longer.Thanks for all this. On that live clip John Mac always reminds me why he is one of my faves. Medeski has been getting a lot of play in my pad also. Great stuff.

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        1. I’m locked into this stuff. I will have it playing tomorrow with all the ,other Stuff you threw this way. Good to have a specific Medeski,Martin and Wood. I’m liking everything I hear from them. yeahanotherblogger one of our friends on this thing we do if I’m not mistaken seen Mac on his last trip over here. Like Doc said, thanks for this. I’m in the mood.

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        2. My pleasure, CB. There’s plenty more in them thar hills. Following this stuff can be a full time occupation. If I were paid for it, I’d be rich 🙂 Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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  4. I missed McLaughlin’s last tour with Jimmy Herring too. However I did watch one of the shows live on YouTube here as it was happening. Starts at around the 2 minute mark. Herring and his band The Invisible Whip play first, then Mac and his band The 4th Dimension play. Last, they combine to form and play Mahavishnu Orchestra. The old coot still has it:

    Mac’s label Abstract Logix commemorates the 3rd (Mahavishnu) set with a CD entitled Live in San Francisco – McLaughlin’s last time playing at the famed Warfield Theatre. I’m biased, but this stuff cooks:

    https://www.johnmclaughlin.com/project/live-in-san-francisco/

    Apparently, this is a view through someone’s cell phone at the show:

    And here’s the only “official” track from the CD I could find on YT:

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  5. Doc and CB,

    For more Medeski, check out the jam-bandy Medeski, Martin and Wood. There’s plenty good in their discography, but their 2nd album (It’s a Jungle In Here) is my fave. Here’s the YT playlist for it::

    For even more fun (and a guitar to boot), check out some of their work with Scofield:

    Enjoy!

    J

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      1. My pleasure. And thanks for the high honors. I guess you could say that I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned during my “obsession with jazz” twisted period 😉 If you want any recs for Miles’ fusion period, there’s plenty enough there to keep you busy for 2 or 3 lifetimes. LOL

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