Larry Ham/Wood Witt, Presence

by Sylvannia Garutch

Presence is a new album that features Woody Witt, a Houston based tenor-saxophonist and educator, with the Larry Ham Trio (comprised of pianist Ham, bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Tom Melito). Witt and Ham first met in 2008 when the New York-based pianist was on tour, the two shared a common vocabulary and they hit it off so well that they have since created joint tours on a nearly annual basis, sometimes performing as a duo and on other occasions as a quartet. Presence, their first recording together, and was created after Witt and Ham had a successful eight-day tour throughout New York. The quartet performs four Witt originals, three Ham originals and two standards.

Opening the set is “22’s Blues,” a relaxed medium swing selection that has dramatic hits in the melody and a single main theme. Witt’s enthusiastic tenor speaks first, over a great feel by Udson and Melito, Witt combines explorative swinging lines with impeccable rhythm and clarity. Hudson speaks next, keeping his solo short and to the point, but always swinging. Ham speaks with a driving clarity that is melodic and energetic. Each line flows to the next and there is never any doubt of the harmonic and melodic directions. Witt and Ham tradeoff with drummer Melito in a energetic culmination of phrases the builds the song to a nice climax. The theme is restated with a strong rumbling ending, giving us or first impression of the music to come. The music is flawless, as on all the other selections, the improvisations are melodic and full of dynamism and the interaction between the four musicians creates a powerful presence.

Melito’s drum intro on the swinging standard “Just You, Just Me,” is prodigious. The quartet gives the harmony a twist and all speak in a post-bop language throughout, which gives this standard a nice medium up-tempo delivery that will surely please any jazz fan. Ham’s solo is again a study in clear precisely placed melodies. His use of subtleties to shape each phrase is a nice touch. Witt’s wide-ranging lines are full of flurries and playful rhythms. Hudson’s solo is mainly in the lower register and full of melodic tidbits. Again, Witt and Ham tradeoff with drummer Melito in a energetic sharing of phrases, that build the song to a climax and shows their ability to create lines based off each contributors ideas.

A cooking version of “Bleecker Street” finds the quartet in top form. Witt’s lines weave in and out of Ham’s voicings. The two musically dance across the rhythmic dance floor created by Hudson and Melito. The power of this quartet comes from a driving rhythmic sense, laid down by each player that bonds together as a group, propelling the music and giving a rich and buoyant feel, that makes it a joy to listen to and follow.

Presence is a superior collection of modern music that highlights Witt’s and Ham’s aptitudes in a quartet setting. The music is varied in styles and tempos and always in good taste with timeless 21st century jazz vocabulary. Highly recommended.

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