For too long Larry Willis has provided outstanding accompaniment, colors, hues, embellishments and compositions to other's recordings as well as recording outstanding jazz under his own name while laboring relative obscurity. It is now well past time to take notice of talented musician's musician and fine composer. Don't let the title fool you, Larry's reading of this "standard" (My Funny Valentine) is as fresh a reading as you will find. Introspective, romantic with those essential spaces where they are needed. Throughout this recording you will find that this trio/quartet LISTENS to one another. This is one of Larry's great gifts. He listens and provides a deft touch to both his own and other's composition while providing a fresh view on each piece. Mr. Willis is one of the great ballad players and it shows on "Blood Count", in which he shows his great sensitivity while bringing enough of Larry Willis to this so that it isn't just another version of "Bloodcount" Strayhorn tribute piece. He does this throughout this recording. He re-examines "It Could Happen to You" providing a free flowing sense of improvisation and a percussiveness at times while going it solo. No excesses, no uneven time nor flights of self indulgence. He gives the song himself and invests his fertile imagination.
On "Blues for Wynton Kelly" - Larry has a real feel fot modern blues and the trio swings on this one. The interplay is tight, Mraz provides a resonant tone and swinging time on bass. Al Foster is Al Foster. Swings and embellishes without overpowering the piece. On "Who's Kidding Who" - The interplay between Mr. Willis and Mr. Mraz is startling. The aural colors that come out of this tune are startling. Mraz's bass literally sings on this one. Al Foster's brush work provides the foundation to let this tune glide along. "Ethiopia" shows Larry's compositional gifts and it is a piece of startling beauty as beautiful as Jimmy Smith's "Flamingo" or Miles Davis' "Flamenco Sketches". Kenny Garrett plays long liquid lines replete with feeling. A haunting beautiful solo by Mr. Garrett. An exhibit of how you can provide a heartfelt but not sappy solo. Willis and Kenny compliment each other birlliantly on this pieces which is one of Larry's best. Mr. Willis' solo is sensitive, introspective. He doesn's spell everything out leaving impressions in his wake. He literally segues inperceptibly into "My Funny Valentine" you just find yourself there. This is trio playing as an art. The opening tune which is entitled "For Openers" exhibits why Kenny Garrett is one of the finest alto saxophonists to appear on the scene in the last 30 years. Great tone, great sense of swing, aggressive and inventive. The tune hits the ground running and doesn't let up. Good soloing by everyone. "Rhythm-A-Ning" is rather unusual in the sense that it lends almost a un-skewing of Monk's rather skewed sensibilities. Not necessarily in keeping with the way alot of people try to remain absolutely faithful to Monk's vision of his tunes. At least that's my take on it. Kenny Garret hard-bops through this one, there is also a plaintiveness through his whole solo. It footstomping, driving swinging fun to listen to. This one is a good vehicle for Al Foster. "Lazy Afternoon" is just brilliant. What a great reading on this one. Mr. Willis stretches out and takes an exotic tune and disassembles and reassembles it. He inserts crucial pauses that provide a sense of longing. You drift along and at the end of this piece you are AMAZED that it was just Larry by himself, you thought it was an orchestra. This recording should find it's way into every collection. Willis is one of the best kept secrets in jazz.