This is real hard-boppin’ jazz played by some of its legendary masters: saxophonist Gary Bartz, pianist Larry Willis, drummer Al Foster and bassist David Williams. The all-star ensemble of veteran artists got together for a show in New York in 2014 (then with bassist Buster Williams onboard) and enjoyed it so much that the musicians decided to keep the party going. The Heads of State made their recording debut with 2015’s Search for Peace, which paid tribute to pianist McCoy Tyner. The band also performed a tremendous set at last year’s Jazz Fest.
Four in One offers the same superbly creative soloing and intuitive ensemble work as the group’s debut. This time out, the repertoire is expanded with more original material from each of the band members mixed successfully with well-chosen selections from other jazz greats.
It opens with Bartz and Foster mixing it up on the title cut, Thelonious Monk’s “Four in One,” before the rest of the band jumps in. One after the other, these remarkable musicians strut their stuff as soloists in what could be considered an old-school format. Hey, with heavies like these, it still works and always will.
Bartz’s pen provided “And He Called Himself a Messenger.” Williams’ bass introduces the tune and Bartz’s very individualized sax is up first. Willis, without hesitation, takes over with his big chords and flying fingers. Foster’s insistent drums urge them on.
Foster, who in his long career hasn’t really been known as a composer, shows his talent in that realm with “Aloysius,” which appropriately starts with a mighty drum roll. The bright selection is followed by Willis’ heart-breaking slow and gentle “The Day You Said Goodbye.” Bartz’s breathy saxophone echoes that emotion and Williams’ fat bass tone adds further poignancy.
Williams’ “Keep the Master in Mind,” on which he utilizes his bow, is also quietly reflective. Bartz’s saxophone lightens the mood of this melodically rich tune.
Between these originals, the Heads of State work out on classic material from Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and more. At the end, these geniuses wisely land on the imaginative saxophonist Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance.” Its quirkiness fits these jazz giants well and takes the brilliant Four in One out high-steppin’.