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A Tribute to Someone

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Album Review

Larry Willis has never achieved the acclaim that he deserves, but these rewarding 1993 studio sessions for Audioquest, which serve as a tribute to his old friend Herbie Hancock, represent some of his best work as a leader. Willis is clearly his own man, as he makes no attempt to mimic Hancock's keyboard style. Joined by trombonist Curtis Fuller (who is in superb form) and saxophonist John Stubblefield, along with a rhythm section anchored by drummer Ben Riley, Willis avoids the predictable paths. Especially rewarding is his unusual treatment of Hancock's well-known "Maiden Voyage," speeding up its loping tempo and taking a more angular approach with a Latin flavor in his exciting arrangement, though it is unfortunately faded out. "Wayman's Way" was inspired by Hancock's "Like a Hurricane," though one has to pay close attention to catch the relationship between the two pieces. The leader's lovely ballad "Sensei" (Japanese for "teacher") is a trio feature, while his "Teasdale Place" is a fun and funky closer, complete with teasing brief references to Hancock's "Watermelon Man." Beautifully recorded, this release was issued both by the label on CD and as a premium HQ 180-gram super vinyl LP, though the latter edition omits Willis' "For Jean."


Born: 20 December 1940 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Once identified with on-the-edge free music, keyboardist Larry Willis had a profitable flirtation with fusion in the '70s, then moved to hard bop in the '80s and '90s. Willis' playing has been frenetic, ambitious, and interesting, but during his jazz-rock and fusion days it was funky but greatly restrained and simplistic. A devotee of Herbie Hancock, Willis has found a good balance, with expertly constructed modal solos and also lyrical, relaxed statements. Willis graduated from the Manhattan School...
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A Tribute to Someone, Larry Willis
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