Forgotten series: Tony Williams, Bobby Watson, Roy Hargrove – Pride of Lions (1992)

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by Nick DeRiso

Imagine a swinging Chopin, or Chick Corea with a case of classical gas.

That’s the vision of James L. Mack — and it comes into focus on “Pride of Lions,” featuring a slew of stars from Tony Williams and Roy Hargrove, to Bobby Watson and Philip Bailey.

I picked it up because I love Williams, the one-time drummer with Miles Davis’ 1960s outfit — and figured it might work like those old Miles-Gil Evans records did. Too, the list of other players, as you see, is long — and it’s impressively diverse.

There’s something to be said for any classical piece that features an Art Blakey sideman (Watson) and a member of Earth, Wind and Fire (Bailey), you know?

The results are interesting, if not classic. The sure, simple work of Hargrove, Watson and Williams make these classical-as-jazz sessions work, if only in part.

Bailey’s vocal on Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” for instance, is positively out of this world. As in: An unidentified flying object.

Admittedly, Bailey’s range is remarkable. But that’s primarily because it’s astonishingly feminine to begin with, then it goes … higher. This is something you either like, or hate.

Watson is underappreciated. Hargrove, to my mind, is a little overappreciated. They both put in professional, if somewhat studied, performances. Williams, for his part, sounds like he wants to start grooving … but can’t.

Pay close attention here to classical guitarist Fareed Haque, who flourishes, dips and wheels through most of the tracks on “Pride of Lions.” He goes multi on Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachiana brasiliera No. 5” to great effect — but frankly, by this time, Bailey’s occasional vocals are no longer imbuing, they’re ungluing the songs.

Better to stick to the instrumentals: Mack — a symphony conductor who has produced records by the likes of Nancy Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, even Little Milton and the Chi-Lites — contributes three compositions. Included among them is “Elegy for String Bass,” a terrific excuse for some melodic and impressive solo work by Ira Coleman.

Purchase: Pride of Lions (Arranged and conducted by James Mack, Philip Bailey, Roy Hargrove, Fareed Hague, Ira Coleman, Paulinho Da Costa, Bobby Watson)

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