Slept On: Steve Williamson, Journey to Truth, Verve Records, 1994
In 1994, British saxophonist Steve Williamson released the recording Journey to Truth. This was his third and apparently last “solo” recording. The disc was a bit of a “left turn” for the artist whose two prior albums had explored a mix of “traditional” and “experimental bop” jazz styles. This recording continues those explorations, but contains elements of hip-hop, funk, righteous/astral-jazz, and R&B.
From what I’ve read, the problem many had with this recording is the very thing I love about it. It’s a “concept” album that is divided into three movements: The Journey (tracks 1-5, righteous astral-jazz); The Pffat Factor (tracks 6-10, hip-hop); and That Fuss (tracks 11-13, R&B funk). However, most of the songs contain a mix of all of these elements. This recording is not easily categorized, and for those who expected an album of “pure” straight-ahead jazz, “pure” or “hard” hip-hop, or “pure” R&B or funk, this album was not a satisfying listen. Because it was not easily categorized, it was perhaps a difficult recording to sell.
To some, this recording is disjointed and unfocused. To me, there is a natural rhythm…a natural order to this recording. It is a spiritual journey through the inner and outer spheres. Lyrically, the songs address spiritual and social concerns. Musically, the recording mimics a spiritual journey, i.e., the natural rhythm of life. The Journey gets you centered and grounded in your spiritual self, The Pffat Factor (dramatically) shifts your focus outward into the hardness of world, and That Fuss draws you back inward, inviting self-reflection. The recording is best listened to from start to finish, with an open mind, willing to take the trip.
Williamson’s solo style might be described as abstract improvisation, with odd harmonics and angular counterpoints…fluid but unexpected. After listening to his playing, you can’t help but think of John Coltrane. Indeed, the liner notes contain a quote from Coltrane, and similar to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (expressing Coltrane’s spirituality), this recording is in movements.
I think I’m most surprised that this album did not get more attention if only because of the participation of members of The Roots. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson plays drums on half of the tracks, “Hub” Hubbard plays bass on a couple of the tracks, and Black Thought contributes rhymes on a couple of the cuts.
Many times, good recordings, important recordings, innovative recordings, don’t get much attention because of what is getting attention. This recording may not have been very “radio friendly,” but it is innovative and it challenged the status quo. It has stood the test of time (it does not sound dated or trendy) in a way that many of the recordings that got attention in 1994 have not.
Here is “Journey to Truth” from The Journey (Steve Williamson, tenor sax, programming; Jhelisa Anderson, vocals; Anthony Tidd, piano; Marc Cyril, bass; Ahmir Thompson, drums; Henri Jelani Defoe, guitar). Righteous astral jazz soul funk groove.
Here is “Pffat Time” from The Pffat Factor (Steve Williamson, tenor sax; Black Thought, rhyme; Ahmir Thompson, drums; Marc Cyril, bass). Check out the brilliant interplay between Williamson and Black Thought.
Here is “Blakk Planets” from That Fuss (Steve Williamson, tenor sax, piano, programming; Noel McKoy, vocals; Jhelisa Anderson, vocal harmonies; Ahmir Thompson, drums; Black Thought, rhyme; Marc Cyril, bass). I need more of this in my life.
Written by: Carled