Buster Williams, Unalome Review
Vocal Virtuosity and Harmonic Exploration with Buster Williams’ Something More Sextet: A Review of Unalome
by Rudy Palma
Ah, the transcendent tones of Unalome! This album, a virtuoso creation from the legendary bassist and composer Buster Williams, invites us to embark on a musical path to enlightenment. Guided by the Unalome symbol, a Buddhist representation of growth and realization, Williams shapes a soundscape that fuses jazz traditions with innovative elements, all anchored by his unparalleled bass playing. Let’s delve into the captivating corners of this recording, reflecting on the vocal mastery, instrumental craft, and production sophistication.
Enter the stage: Buster Williams’ Something More Sextet, a collection of musical virtuosos breathing life into the concept of Unalome. Williams, a bassist whose career boasts collaborations with jazz legends, is the guiding force of this ensemble. Jean Baylor lends her vocal expertise, infusing richness and emotion into the melodies. Bruce Williams on saxophone and flute, Stefon Harris on vibraphone, George Colligan on piano, and Lenny White on drums, each contributes a unique layer to the sound. Together, they create a musical narrative that transcends genres, embodying Williams’ explorative spirit and tasteful innovation. The carefully curated combination of these seasoned musicians results in an album that’s as much a journey through sound as it is a reflection of personal enlightenment and musical mastery.
From the get-go, the opening track, “Stairways,” paints a picture of hope and ambition. Jean Baylor’s wordless vocals blend seamlessly with the saxophone and vibraphone, creating an optimistic melody. Williams’ choice of harmony isn’t just elegant; it’s a statement of profound musicality that elevates the entire composition.
“42nd Street,” with its jazz-infused R&B feel, showcases the synergy of the ensemble. Baylor’s warm vocals, supported by Colligan’s lush chords, create a groove that’s both feel-good and authentically swing. The call-and-response between Baylor and Bruce is pure chemistry.
Speaking of chemistry, the entire ensemble’s depth of understanding shines on “Estate,” building a rich texture and rhythmic accuracy that makes the rendition not just gorgeous but utterly immersive. The blend of Latin standards with jazz flair demonstrates the intentional relationship the musicians have with the music.
Williams’ venture into lyricism on “In the Middle of a Rainbow” provides another high note. A memorable melody, born from Williams’ inspiration on a drive, reveals a newfound gift in lyricism—a step along his ascending pathway.
As profound and invigorating as Unalome is, it does not shy away from familiar territories. While tracks like “I’ve Got the World on a String” celebrate straight-ahead jazz vocabulary with joyful swinging, they don’t push the envelope as much as other pieces. It’s classic, no doubt, but some might find it lacking the adventurous spirit present elsewhere on the album.
Frankly, it’s hard to pinpoint anything outright ugly in this work. If one were to nitpick, perhaps the unfinished nature of “The Wisdom of Silence” leaves a craving for something more. Williams admits it’s still a work in progress, and while this adds an intriguing layer, it may also leave some listeners wanting a more polished conclusion.
Recorded live at Sear Sound’s Studio C on a Sear-Avalon custom console, the album’s production shines. The crisp sound at 96KHz/24bit, mixed to 1/2″ analog tape, complements the musicianship, providing a refined yet organic sonic experience. It’s a feast for audiophiles and casual listeners alike.
Unalome offers a spiritual expedition narrated by a jazz legend. From the compositions and arrangements to the performances, and right through to the recording process, it’s a testament to growth, realization, and artistic courage. If you’re on the hunt for an album that transcends boundaries while celebrating the roots of jazz, allow Buster Williams and his adept ensemble to guide you. Their craft, especially in vocals and instrument virtuosity, resonates not just with the ears but with the soul. Here’s to Unalome —a pathway in music leading us to greater heights.
Ah, jazz lovers, there you have it—a blend of the ancient and the modern, the spiritual and the sensory, all rolled into a mesmerizing album. Whether it’s Williams’ pulsating bass lines, Baylor’s rich vocal textures, or the tantalizing touch of the gifted instrumentalists, Unalome offers an unforgettable journey.