WHAT HE ALWAYS WANTED
Saxophonist Steve Williamson is back to stake his claim
to the hottest horn in town. KENNY MATHIESON
Saxophonist Steve Williamson makes a welcome return to a Scottish stage at the new Late Night Club venue. the Vic Cafe in the (ilasgow School of Art. as part of a considerably strengthened programme. It should provide a good platform for the high-energy brilliance of the Williamson Quintet. as well as cementing the Art Schools traditional links with jazz in the city.
When Williamson first emerged to general notice in the wake of Courtney Pine a couple of years ago. the players tended to be linked in terms of their backgrounds in the London reggae scene. their membership of the Jazz Warriors big band. and their advocacy of an explosive. post-Coltrane idiom. Young. sharp and black on a
white—dominated British jazz scene. they signalled the arrival of a new generation of native black players making their mark in the music. In Steve’s case. the progression was a slow one.
‘I was playing reggae fora long time. but the thing that really moved tne into wanting to learn to play jazz was my interest in practising and getting better and better. which wasn‘t really applicable to playing reggae. I used to learn lots of Cirover Washington solos. Wilton Felder from the Crusaders. that kind of stuff. I eventually met a saxophone player who was studying jazz at the Guildhall. and I went on to that myself the next year. I studied really hard to get in. and it just developed from that time. I had been listening to jazz for a long time. but I never thought 1 could play it.‘
It quickly became obvious that. despite the similarities. Steve and Courtney were already developing quite distinctive approaches to their music. In Steve‘s case. the most obvious difference lay in his meticulous attention to dynamics. rather than settling for the kind of
unrelenting attack which Courtney then favoured. and which remains his strongest mode.
‘()h yeah. we practice dynamics 21
lot — that‘s really important in establishing the whole mood of a tune. It‘s not respecting the mood if you just play it all on the one level at the same volume. all the music just starts to sound the satne. A lot of young players tend to do that. including myself. but you have to learn. otherwise it‘sexciting the first time. then the second tune is the same. then the third is different but its still the same. Dynamics are important — it‘s really emotional stuff.‘
In the summer of 1987. Steve seemed set to follow Courtney into an early album deal. He was attracting major attention with his own quartet. and toured with the jazz dance troupe IDJ. including two nights at the Round Midnight Festival in Edinburgh that year. as well as playing with the Jazz Warriors. In the event. however. the breakthrough was delayed; rumours of record deals and ofmanagement problems seemed in continuous circulation. and everyone wondered what the hell was happening with Steve Williamson.
Happily. he now seems set to fulfil the potential which made him seem the most exciting prospect ofall the British newcomers. Steve has signed a record deal with the Polydor offshoot Urban. and already features on their compilation The Freedom Principle; on the new James Taylor Quartet release Get Organised. where his fiery saxophone adds genuine bite to the band's Jimmy Smith-derived sound; and on the forthcoming debut album from singer Cleveland Watkiss. Green Chimneys. out in July.
On the evidence of recent performances. Williamson has relinquished none of that
exceptional promise. and leads arguably the hottest band on the London scene. l lis own debut album. possibly later this year. will certainly be one of the most eagerly anticipated new British albums of recent years; his Jazz Festival appearance may well demonstrate why.
K Steve Williamson Quintet. Lute ( 'lul),
10The List 16-29June 1989