Well, let’s see. There’s this disc entitled Standard Transmission (Origin). There’s this cat, Bruce Williamson, playing reeds and backed by a rhythm section...and, we have the great, time-tested standards by Rodgers and Hart, Ray Noble and Monk, among others. This ought to be rather routine, so then, let’s press “Play.”
This first track, Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” features Williamson’s energetic alto saxophone playing, while his overdubbed bass clarinet provides interesting embellishment. This combination is quite appealing, but not overdone; this is novel, not novelty. As a soloist, Williamson is propelled here by pianist Art Lande, who also receives special billing below the disc’s title. This Lande dude drives, too. Just listen to the way his piano joins with the bass clarinet to provide a bed for the drum solo by Alan Hall. Bass clarinet and piano driving a drum solo? That’s standard?
Let’s try track four, “Just You, Just Me.” That should be standard enough.
Oh, my! Listen to Lande and Hall having a conversation with keys and skins. Ah, now there’s some stride piano. Now Williamson and bassist Peter Barshay are having a mano-a-mano discussion. Now Williamson and Lande duet before the latter has a taste of free. (Hey, everybody! Grab a partner!) There are also dialogues here between Barshay and Hall, Williamson’s soprano and Hall, Lange and Barshay, and then everyone enters together—call it an All Skate if you want—to ride this tune out.
What’s with this “Steps to a Woven Dream”? Why are there two songs, “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Weaver of Dreams” listed below this title? Well, Hall’s brush work here is tasty, and his cymbals during Lande’s solo are quite catching as well. This ensemble then mixes it up well with rapid runs here, and slower paces there. Who would have guessed after all this, the song’s resolution would involve a soprano saxophone/piano duet?
Who is Williamson trying to kid here? Standard What?
What is so standard about Lande playing a melodic on “Don’t Blame Me”? Did Lande mean to evoke visions of an exotic, faraway land, as he and Williamson take turns with the song’s melody? Listen to Williamson, that rascal. This recording’s so intimate that one can even hear the keys being pressed on his alto saxophone before Barshay and Hall join in, transforming this tune into a ballad bristling with romance.
There is more tenderness on “Nature Boy.” Barshay’s opening solo features his thick notes laying a firm foundation for Williamson’s soprano saxophone, as he elongates this gem’s melody. Williamson’s soprano seemingly floats above the rhythm section only to land softly on terra firma at song’s end.
Now for the closer. Williamson presents “Mysterious Moon,” a mash-up where he plays the melody to “How High the Moon” while Lande simultaneously plays the melody to “Misterioso." Hall adds further contrast at the start with his brush work, managing to evoke a Western flick feel. “Mysterious Moon,” listed as a bonus track, is only 66 seconds long. Why so short? That’s not standard time!
Better watch this Williamson cat on his next release. Who knows what musical mischief he might pull next?