Rod Williams’ homecoming: After 30 years, a killer Night No. 1
The pianist Rod Williams set off for New York just a few months shy of 30 years ago after studying with, and being encouraged by, the late Kenn Cox. And Friday night, he led his first Detroit concert since then.
It was a sensational night of music for Williams, whose compositions often boast broad dramatic shapes, yet also provide the kind of interior spaces that let A-game soloists let loose with their full, interpretive energies. In other words, it’s more than just music to blow on — but it’s also great music to blow on. And blow they did, they being the aggregation that Williams dubbed “Options,” featuring bassist Jaribu Shahid (back in the city these days after well over a decade’s absence), drummer Djallo Djakate, percussionist Mahindi Masai and the twinned and sometimes intertwined alto saxophones of Anthony (Tony) Holland (like Shahid, an alum of the often-lamented Griot Galaxy of yore) and Cassius Richmond (of the one-time middle school enfants terribles ensemble Bird-Trane-Sco-Now).
There were strong solos through the night, Shahid’s being particular standouts; the interplay of the two altos was sometimes staggering; and not suprisingly, perhaps, Williams, was a master of soloing within these musical worlds of his own design. And for all the braininess of Williams’ compositions, there was emotion to be wrested from them; they had their hooks and sometimes a sing-songability that left them dancing in your ears after they ended.
“I’ve been wanting to play with this guy since he was in high school, and I finally got a chance,” Williams said in reference to Richmond, who turned in pleading, lament of a solo on one of the pieces where the band stripped down to rhythm section and his horn alone. And he gets a chance to do it again Saturday night, when the band should be truly warmed up and comfortable in Williams’ compositions, who Williams himself confessed are tricky.
The space, Studio 20 by 15, a relatively new one for jazz, turns out to be a great addition to the city’s offerings. It’s named after the size of the stage, which, at a quarter of the room, tells you this isn’t the most spacious. But along with its intimacy, it has splendid acoustics and a warm vibe. It’s up on the third floor of building No. 2 of the Russell Industrial Center Lofts, 1610 Clay Street in Detroit; 313-247-5780. Admission is $12.