Thursday Jazz: Larry Willis
Words By Zach Zeidner
As funk-jazz swept the Jazz scene with bands like Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters and Chick Corea’s Return To Forever during the seventies, many Jazz musicians couldn’t help but get on board. Larry Willis was no exception. Getting his start in the seminal 1965 album by Jackie McLean, Right Now! This album proved to be massively influential in the hard-bop/post-bop movement and propelled newcomer Larry Willis into the realm of Jazz. Willis has gone on to play everything from free-jazz to fusion as well as have worked with numerous Jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Cannonball Adderley, Woody Shaw, Hugh Masakela, Nat Adderley, Stan Getz, Clifford Jordan and many more. His versatility on the piano and keyboards in the realm of pop and rock as well as Jazz is demonstrated by the fact he was the keyboardist for Blood, Sweat, and Tears for seven years. Willis has gone on to play on at least 300 records and is a staple in the jazz scene. Six years after Right Now! Was released, Willis went on to release his first album as a leader entitled, A New Kind of Soul. This album immediately casted Willis into the light of a well accepted Jazz leader. Three years later he came out with a funky album entitled Inner Crisis, and I’m sure it won’t disappoint.
The album opens with a funky tune called “Out of The Coast” that demonstrates the intricate horn work this album has to offer, whilst the rhythm section lays down a funky feel to get you moving and open up what surely will be a perpetual groove machine. With Al Foster on drums, Roland Prince on Guitar, Harold Vick on sax, Dave Bargeron on trombone as well as the acclaimed Eddie Gomez on acoustic bass and Roderick Gaskin on Electric bass. This album is full of explorations of various styles of funk-rock fusion as well as hard-bop. Willis’ compositions are catchy and driving with various examples of his virtuosity set within. Willis’ solos are elaborate, compelling, and creative while his rhythm is precise, soulful, and fluid. “153rd Street Theme” is a great funk tune that explores the various improvisation skills of each musician contrasting from the funky groove-based jam which preceeded it. Throughout the album enjoy the delicate, cyclical, and funk-driving drum lines of Al Foster. Swing with the horns and walk that bass with Eddie Gomez. Embrace the soul guitar licks of Ronald Prince, and escape in the sophisticated solos of Larry Willis.
Purchase Larry Willis' Inner Crisis on Amazon