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Woody Witt & Larry Ham - Presence

Presence teams together Woody Witt, a talented tenor-saxophonist based in Houston and an influential educator, with the Larry Ham Trio (comprised of pianist Ham, bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Tom Melito). Witt has recorded a string of impressive CDs during the past decade. In addition to leading his own groups, among those who he has worked with through the years have been trumpeters Randy Brecker, Tim Hagans and Jim Rotondi, saxophonists James Moody and David Liebman, and pianist Joe LoCascio. Larry Ham, who has worked with Lionel Hampton, Illinois Jacquet and Catherine Russell among others, recorded a solo piano CD (Just Me, Just You for the Arbors label) and with his trio on Carousel. Witt and Ham first met in 2008 when the New York-based pianist was on tour of the Southwest. They hit it off so well that they have since had joint tours on a nearly annual basis, sometimes performing as a duo and on other occasions as a quartet. Presence, their first recording together, was created after Witt and Ham had a successful eight-day tour throughout New York.

On Presence, the quartet performs four Witt originals, three by Ham and two standards. The set begins with “22’s Blues, ” an excellent introduction to the group. Witt’s enthusiastic tenor, like that of Ernie Watts, combines an explorative and swinging style with a soulful sound. Bassist Hudson and Ham also have solos before a tradeoff with drummer Melito and the closing melody wrap up the appealing performance. Here, as on the other selections, the improvisations are concise and make each note count.

Woody Witt’s playing on the rhythmic and melancholy “The Edge Of Uncertainty” is both passionate and thoughtful. “One Of Many Shades” is a jazz waltz that has Ham (who hints at early McCoy Tyner) and Witt creating relaxed and quietly inventive solos. “Dee’s Dream” starts off as a moody ballad, picks up steam with the saxophonist’s second statement, and becomes calm during its final section.

Melito’s drums bring in the swing standard “Just You, Just Me.” The song has been modernized a bit harmonically and is taken as a memorable post bop romp by the quartet. “Pirouette” inspires a warm ballad statement from Witt, who is quite fluent and inventive on a cooking version of “Bleecker Street.” The rhythm section sets a relaxed groove on “Concentric Circles” that inspires some explosive double-time runs by Witt. A brief and emotional melody statement on the beautiful “You Must Believe In Spring” concludes this memorable effort.

Presence is a high-quality set of modern yet timeless 21st century jazz that showcases Woody Witt and the Larry Ham Trio at their best.

Times - Tracks - Composer

1. (5:03) 22’s Blues Larry Ham
2. (7:35) The Edge of Uncertainty Woody Witt
3. (6:49) One of Many Shades Woody Witt
4. (5:43) Dee’s Dream Larry Ham
5. (6:07) Just you, Just Me Greer, Klages
6. (5:42) Pirouette Woody Witt
7. (5:18) Bleecker Street Larry Ham
8. (6:21) Concentric Circles Woody Witt
9. (2:27) You Must Believe in Spring LeGrand, A. & M. Bergman

Presence Personnel

Woody Witt, tenor saxophone
Larry Ham, piano
Lee Hudson, bass
Tom Melito, drums

Early Reviews:
Jazz is a conversation, a relationship between musicians that conveys some of their deepest expression of self-awareness. Music is a powerful vehicle of countenance, but in the hands of such masterful improvisors such as award-winning saxophonist, Woody Witt, and the influential educator and pianist, Larry Ham, who lends his trio comprised bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Tom Melito, the level of performance is unmatched.
-Tom Faddis, 5Fingerreview

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.
-Sylvannia Garutch, The Jazz Word

Larry Ham and Woody Witt's collaborative effort has brought forth the fruit of Presence, with the sophistication and melodic harmonic relationships that used to grace hard bop jazz, while still sporting just the right amount of abstract modernism from today's sound to supply a strong underpinning of the ensemble current.
-Geannine Reid, All About Jazz

What I liked most about Presence, was the unbridled ability of each player, the dominance of the co-leaders equally and generously sharing the spotlight together in a cohesive group sound that is memorable. Witt is a commanding and skilled player; his tone and skill is light-years ahead of most players and his playing leaves an impression well after the album has completed. Ham is a perfect match to Witts’ masterful playing. Ham is a memorable soloist, accompanist and his lines are assured and uniquely his own. Bassist Lee Hudson, is elastic when needed and then resolute when called for, while drummer Tom Melito listens and reacts to create exciting textures and colorizations for the benefit of the overall group sound. This is a recording not to be missed as it holds its Presence.
-Jeff Becker, Jazzsensibilities

Woody Witt’s molasses thick tenor melds with Larry Ham’s soulful piano as the two lead a quartet with Lee Hudson/b and Tom Melito/dr through a collection of mostly originals. Of the covers, the team is relaxed and warm as Witt glows like Ike Quebec on “ You Must Believe In Spring” while Melito drives the team like wild mustangs on a swinging “Just You, Just Me.” The team does some nice soulful bopping on “22’s Blues” while Ham leads the rhythm through a deep groove on “The Edge Of Uncertainty” and chimes with Melito’s cymbals on “Concentric Circles.” Witt is a warm hearted player, palpable on the romantic “One of Many Shades” and with a vibrato that rumbles like a V8 on “Pirouette.” Gotta see these guys when they come to So Cal!
-George Harris, Jazzweekly

Individually, each of these master journeymen are excellent presenters, but together, the magic really happens. Their grasp of the be-bop and swing language is exceptional, and their originals lay nicely with the standards for an overall winning program.
-Adorjan Horvát, Staccatofy

Presence is an excellent album performed by a group of musicians that are enthusiastic and explorative in their approach to the modern jazz language. The nine tracks cover various moods; from introspective ballads to swinging selections to soulful sounds, Presence has it all. Ham and Witt are both masterfully convey concise musical statements during their solos and each line is full of emotional energy. Individually the players are all equally masterful, but together the group sound soars to new heights. A balanced and well-oiled ensemble, that knows how to make their Presence be felt.
-Nolan Conghaile, Chalked Up Reviews
 
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