Ben Williams won first prize in the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition for double-bass and has played with Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Roy Hargrove, and Stefon Harris’ Blackout. Like Harris, Williams incorporates R&B and hip-hop into his work. Here, he leads a fine group composed of saxophonist Marcus Strickland, guitarist Matthew Stevens, pianist Gerald Clayton, drummer Jamire Williams, and percussionist Etienne Charles. Williams might draw on contemporary pop elements but the core of his sound is clearly rooted in pre-free jazz styles. “Dawn of the New Day” swings in a pleasingly mellow way, while “The Lee Morgan Story” features guest MC John Robinson providing a rhymed biography of the great trumpeter. The group operates in a fiery Latin mode on “November,” a track that finds Jaleel Shaw on alto sax. Williams nods to his Washington D. C. roots by adding a go-go groove to Woody Shaw’s “Moontrane.” “Mr. Dynamite” pays homage to James Brown with a piece that looks to classic 1960s funky jazz for inspiration. State of Art closes strongly with a far from standard take on the standard “Moonlight in Vermont,” on which Williams plays some sweet electric bass.
The Lee Morgan Story (feat. Christian Scott & John Robinson)