Larry Willis – I Fall in Love Too Easily
(HighNote HCD7326. Album Review by Peter Jones)
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Rudy Van Gelder died in 2016 aged 91, the most famous resident of Englewood Cliffs, NJ, just across the Hudson River from the top end of Manhattan. His fame was of course a result of the studio he built there in 1959, or more accurately, the jazz records he engineered there over the decades that followed – many of them for Blue Note, including A Love Supreme. One of the hundreds of musicians who regularly passed through was pianist Larry Willis – also sadly no longer with us, having died in 2019. Willis is not a household name, having really made his mark as a sideman with the likes of Carla Bley, Jackie McLean, Stan Getz and Blood, Sweat and Tears. He also, however, recorded many albums as leader, mostly for the Mapleshade label, before switching to Joe Fields’s HighNote in 2008. Joe too has since passed away, the company now being run by his son Barney.
This quintet album is somewhat misleadingly billed as “The Final Session at Rudy Van Gelder’s”: in fact the studio is still operating under the ownership of Maureen Sickler who recorded and mixed the album. The phrase refers to the fact that this was the last of the many albums that Larry Willis recorded at the hallowed facility.
It’s a classy piece of work, imbued with the warm, dry acoustic that Van Gelder was so famous for. In style, too, it exudes the very essence of the studio in its late Fifties/early Sixties heyday. Among the eight tracks are two standards: the title track and Bobby Troup’s mournful ballad The Meaning of the Blues. The opener Today’s Nights is a classic mid-tempo swinger by alto saxophonist Joe Ford, who shares the head with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. It’s followed by a bebop version of Willis’s own Heavy Blue, which appeared in its original form in 1976 as a funk tune on the Blood, Sweat and Tears album More Than Ever. Back to the future: here, it sounds like something Freddie Hubbard might have recorded in the late Fifties. Two more tracks are the work of the rhythm section alone: first, bassist Santi DeBriano’s lovely ballad Anna, here featuring Blake Meister on bass, along with Victor Lewis on drums; second, Let’s Play, a gentle latin tune by Willis himself. He plays the title track solo, a plangent, serene take on the Styne/Cahn ballad, a lovely way to close the album.
It would be easy to dismiss all this as a little more than a nostalgia fest for a retro style of jazz, but it’s way better than that. I Fall in Love Too Easily is a mature, deeply satisfying collection, a fitting end to the career of a man who deserves a bigger reputation.
LINKS: Live review of Larry Willis at Pizza Express Jazz Club in 2014
Feature from 2020 about Don and Maureen Sickler and the VanGelder.Live inititative
Categories: Album review
Grammar Police ambiguity citation: A cursory reading of your second sentence could lead one to think you meant to say that A LOVE SUPREME was recorded for Blue Note, when we know that album was recorded for Impulse.
All that aside, I had the good fortune to hear Larry Willis in several contexts, from Blood, Sweat and Tears to his own groups, and he was always a great listener as well as an imaginative and persuasive player..