Buster Williams, Unalome Review
Unalome: Buster Williams’ Stairway to Enlightenment Through Jazz
by Sylvannia Garutch
With Unalome, Buster Williams takes listeners on a soul-stirring journey that blends musical expertise with philosophical introspection. The title, a Buddhist concept embodying the path to enlightenment, provides a thematic underpinning for the album.
Williams’ esteemed reputation in the jazz community, highlighted by his collaborations with a veritable who’s who of jazz greats, lends an aura of authority and depth to this work. It’s clear from the outset that his playing is nuanced and innovative, boldly exploring the vast landscapes of jazz while still paying homage to its roots.
Williams’ ensemble for this album is outstanding in its talent and diversity. Jean Baylor’s vocals, Bruce Williams’ saxophone, Stefon Harris’ vibraphone, George Colligan’s piano, and Lenny White’s drums harmoniously blend into a riveting sonic journey. Each artist contributes a unique energy, shaping a musical narrative that’s both captivating and deeply expressive.
Unalome opens with the strong original, “Stairways,” instantly drawing listeners in with Baylor’s enthralling wordless vocals weaving seamlessly with the harmonious saxophone and vibraphone. Buster’s elegant choice of harmony and an optimistic melody line erects a musical staircase, each note a step towards transcendence.
“Estate,” a soulful Latin standard, is graced by Baylor’s interpretation of the melody with rhythmic precision. Buster’s clear bassline underlines the harmonic movement, helping each musician’s depth of understanding and conscious relationship with the music resonate clearly.
Buster’s original track, “Tayamisha,” a tribute to his daughter, allows the band to let loose, creating an energetic soundscape. The ensemble’s performance here demonstrates their individuality and collective synergy, painting vivid pictures with their sonorous artistry.
The album takes a thoughtful turn with his ballad “In the Middle of a Rainbow.” Here, listeners meet Buster, the lyricist – his words presenting a new layer of intimacy and a different angle to his musical thought process.
This introspective mood continues into “The Wisdom of Silence.” As an exploration of Buddhist influence, the ensemble intricately weaves a soundscape of calm and rest, with Baylor’s wordless vocals adding a robust quality as Buster’s guiding basslines lead the way.
“42nd Street” brings a jazz-influenced R&B feel to the mix. Baylor’s warm vocals have elegance and style. Colligan’s chords and soloing are also a highlight of this selection. The ensemble relaxed in its synergy, delights in spontaneous interaction, and is unafraid to let the moment guide their inner visions.
“I’ve Got the World on a String” is a joyful embrace of straight-ahead jazz. The ensemble displays a masterful command of time and swing, guided by the seasoned pairing of Buster and White, reminding us that in jazz, time can swing from a place of silence.
The journey comes full circle with the poignant “Here’s to Life.” Baylor’s impressive vocals lead listeners through thoughtful lyrics and a beautiful melody.
This album represents a journey along an ascending path, with each track a step on the staircase to enlightenment. With Unalome, Buster and his ensemble invite listeners to join them on this explorative journey. The album flows with Buster’s ability to bring us straight-ahead jazz while still evolving his craft, the sign of a true musician and a seeker.