Absolute bad-arse! The seminal duumvirate classics – Emergency! & “(turn it over)” from Tony William’s Lifetime unit still secure some of the greatest Jazz pedigree of all time. & they scout & dash way beyond Jazz, transmogrifying a staggeringly eclectic & radical concoction of acutely personalized hard rock, break-beat, experimentalism, avant-garde, noise, beatnik-ellipticism & of course – Fusion, all with deadly technical verve. Dingy, semi-lofi, edgy, with the organ & guitar prone to mild discordance, scripted but also suffuse with wild & extremely rash improvisation, soloing, ad-lib articulations & embellishment.
Emergency! emerged in 69, making it a major archetype for the forthcoming Fusion movement. Williams, truly one of the greats, coerced a young John McLaughlin on guitar & Larry Young/Khalid Yasin gunning electric-organ into the power trio (Jack Bruce from Cream would become a fourth integration for 1970’s follow-up LP “(turn it over)”. At the time, Williams mien, energy, conception & direction was one of radical passion, vigor, individuality, impulsiveness & daring – extraordinary panache! – unimpeded, streamlined, dynamic humanity without restraint or the tarnishing’s of academic intervention. The intensity of his spirit, the sophistication of original expression, all channeled through immense character & risk are still ‘electrifying’ to behold to this day. The dull fucks faxing-out of the modern academicized, theory obsessed, reprography Jazz institutions of privilege & formula/protocol fixated flat-line need to pay attention! – this is how it’s done, & Tony’s heart & art led & propelled the foray. He might as well of been playing with a pair of fucking paint-brushes. By no means was he a proto-punk that was all brash & no baroque – Williams had staggering chops, independence & technique, all of which he had fortified into intense blooms of self-fashioned stand-out. Extraordinarily impetuous & pushy, blurting percussive sentiments & exclamations at the daredevil forefront of his ability. He is not a ‘safe’ drummer but an arch live-wire, & despite consistent adroitness with tightness, mistakes & messiness abound due to the sheer emotional courage & constant pushing beyond stability. Real daring! So exhilarating!
McLaughlin, one of Jazz’s most astute, fast & aggressive guitarists, launches at Williams scathing artistic fleer with hugely formidable rambunction & kinetic zest…it’s the perfect companion. Complimentary, clashing & competitive – a kind of vying between youthful stalwarts on their respective instruments. To be in the nexus of two major ustads scrim is an absolute wonder. Williams is often unforgiving, perhaps even ‘disrespectful’ regarding his colleague’s coordinates – keep up & hold your own – ride or die! & McLaughlin just charges the challenge…some sections are akin to a battle! It was unfortunately rare to have such beasts of strength throwing down together on peak dial. Obeisance to the band leader, rampant cowardice amongst line-up selection & a strange cultural habit of one musician baring centralist exclusivity (something that’s actually become a substantial problem) mean that this is kind of sublime multivalent potency is very’ very rarely required or exercised. The coaction here is blissful & shit-kicking to the utmost.
Throw in Larry Young/Khalid Yasin! A fantastic player & massively important third feature for the Lifetime unit. Ambidextrous as hell (he often plays walking bass licks on the left whilst simultaneously soloing on the right) Khalid smashes into the storm with expert adaption & drenches the session with his manic energy & flare. The electric organ is numinous, ghostly, stygian & at times extremely noisy &/or eerie on some of the more down-tempo spoken word cuts. The combination of all 3 unified elements is just extraordinary. This is some of the best shit to come out of Jazz, positively pouring radical creative peregrine earnest. The sheer bubbling, hyperactive raucous youth energy, spiraling out in abundance like quills on a cacti are just a pure joy, let alone all the exemplary & nonpareil technical accomplishment & honed discipline. Pure brilliance.I personally cannot hoist one album over the other, & I see them, despite their selective dissimilitude, as conjoined statements of equal merit. Emergency! Has 25% more Jazz, whereas (turn it over) has 20% more Rock. For me, they remain equally resplendent releases. Jack Bruce strides in to the sequel on bass, making a strong contribution to the mercurial medley (he also provides vocals on the bonus track One World). “PLAY IT LOUD.” – “PLAY IT VERY LOUD.” – Instructs the decree on the sleeve notes!
1969, 1971, Verve Records.
Ego! Ha! 1971! Tony’s strange wonders into beatnik – spoken word avant-garde experimentalism & an odd ambition cum penchant for more ‘commercially acceptable’ (or whatever we are going to call it) rock, R&B based standard pulls him right off the fucking rails! Although quite fascinating & intriguing in some oddly beguiling cult like manner, this album sucks! McLaughlin cut (& you can see why), Khalid remains & Williams pulls-along Ron Carter, Warren Smith (who played one of the centuries most lolling grooves imaginable on Julius Hemphill’s classic “Body from the Flat-out Jump Suite LP)”, Ted Dunbar & Don Alias. Its just tons of scattered curia & let’s just say ‘typical shit’ with weird twists … all down-tempo! Whaaaaaaaat??? Who knows? A really’ really odd album. There is something strangely (& untraceably) interesting about this curious misfire, but ultimately, its useless! However, the solitary redeeming fragment is the very last track; the Urchins of Shermese, clocking in at 6.16. this is a marvelous & weird number, sprouting after all that dross to close the album. It’s the only album where Tony really breaks a sweat. Khalid also kills it & it has this delicious & entrancing signature in 3/3/6 . A very sapid number indeed & one that saves the session from almost complete irrelevance & obviation.Ego was the prelude to Williams commercial castration. The laughable The Old Bum’s Rush was a holistic write-off from what I recall (never even hung on to it). Lifetime moved to Columbia & issued ‘Believe It’ in 75 with the great Alan Holdsworth on guitar. I guess it’s just about bearable in stints, but it’s an absolute mockery of the initial exceptionalism that Lifetime projected. Direr still was 76’s “Million Dollar Legs”. They made a fucking idiot of Tony. A parody of former splendor, husked & strewn with all edgy-energy drained. As far as I am aware he never got it back. many of the Jazz guys were eviscerated, collared & subdued in this fashion. Stanley Clarke, Alphonso Mouzon, Marion Brown. Fame, drugs, affluent lifestyles, complacency & arguably the most malign of all – an industry/ideology that seems to foster pussification & pacification as a preferred position – like eunuchs in a choir. Tony was brought to heel, but the irrepressible strength & venary of Emergency! & (turn it over) are perennial & indelible.
1969, 1971, Verve Records.
Whilst we are here, its also worth flagging attention to Stanley Clarke’s marvelous s/t album from 70, which features Tony on drums. Its Clarke’s best moment & an apogee of the Fusion genre. The peculiar Jan Hammer (a profoundly contradictory musician of staggering commercial trash & also sensational artistic daring) lays on some of the most glorious mad-moog glee, & the intriguing Bill Connors also donates excellent electric guitar. Tony wallops-out sloppy-as-hell but powerful & gigantically enthusiastic power drumming on a hard Rock axis. It’s a bloody great album & well worth the effort inspection.
Finally, we come to Motohiko Hino, a name that few outside Nippon will be familiar with. A great deal of his work is commercial toss, but this sweltering hard-Fusion incendiary of him leading a Quartet live in Tokyo from 75 is a stormer, with Lifetimes influence explicitly apparent. Motohiko really kills it with plenty of rapid, muscular & wildly-inventive power-drumming effusing impassioned impulsivity (pretty sure he has a double pedal going on occasion here too). Katsumi Watanabe burns hard on the electric-guitar & Mikio Masuda fry’s on keyboards with some of the most ballistic moog excess (as well as a milder electric organ) the 70’s can offer. Isao Suzuki plays messy, under-pressure double-bass that sounds like its struggling to keep balance (this adds a kind of cool chaotic attraction which can be received with fondness). Some of the stuff is really hurtling & hectic (particularly the first half of opener Olive’s Step) & it definitely inhabits the same kind of dynamic volatility of Lifetime. Certainly worth hunting down if Williams first two LT joints stung your nodes.
1975 – King Bellwood Records.