Comet Ride is stratospheric. Saxophonist Willie Williams is out of this world with drummer Rudy Walker and bassist Gary Wang. Williams, an award-winning performer, composer, arranger, and educator, has been a busy sideman with Arthur Taylor, Art Blakey, Clifford Jordan, the Mingus Dynasty, T.S. Monk, and a host of pop artists. Comet Ride is the 5th CD by Williams as a leader, and will hopefully not be the last.
Playing in a piano-less trio presents certain challenges. In some ways, it leaves the slate wide open for creative improvisation, but that openness can be a long, dark journey into oblivion. In the competent hands of Williams, Walker, and Wang, it’s certainly the former. Wang and Walker completely lock in the time, while Wang and Williams fill the harmonic gaps so well, one almost doesn’t notice the absence of a comping instrument.
Williams composed eight out of the ten tracks on Comet Ride. Right from the start, the title track is stellar bound as it soars with lightning speed into another universe. "Mo’ Grits" is a soulful, New Orleans second-line style tribute to the South’s most favored dish. With a Celtic flavor, "Leprechaun’s Dance" is nothing but fun. The trio seems to move as one on every track, feeding off of the other’s energy and direction. Of the many highlights on Comet Ride, Williams’ arrangement of "Freedom Suite" is particularly fine. Paying tribute to Eddie Harris and Jimmy Heath, Williams fuses "Freedom Jazz Dance" with "Gingerbread Boy" and "CTA". Taking the tribute one step further, he introduces the Suite with his two saxes played simultaneously ala Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Comet Ride closes with a truly heartfelt rendition of Ellington’s "Caravan".
Like fire and ice blazing through the stars, Comet Ride is more than an adventure. Great feel, great time, great playing from three energetic cosmic travelers.