David Witham – Spinning The Circle (2007)

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David Witham (r) with one of Nick’s unwitting interview victims.

by Pico

David Witham is one of those figures in jazz who is hardly a household name to the general public, shoot, even to the jazz public. But just behind the curtain, Witham has been a major contributor to the scene. A pianist who likes to dabble in the electronic stuff, he’s been George Benson’s musical director and keyboardist since 1990. He’s also worked as producer or sideman with such luminaries as Tom Scott, Grover Washington, Lee Ritenour, Patti Austin, k.d. lang, Chaka Khan, Jose Feliciano, Eddie Harris, Larry Carlton, Maxi Priest, Chick Corea, Michael and Randy Brecker.

With such a diverse but mainstream background such as that, you’d think Witham would play it safe with a competent but easily forgettable record, right? Ha, not a chance.

On the contrary, Witham gives us a challenging, set that varies wildly in tempo, mood and structure while maintaining a steady level of interest. It’s nothing like the music Benson or most of these artists are known for making. For these sessions, Witham borrows Scott Amendola from Cryptogramaphone labelmates The Nels Cline Singers, as well as Cline himself for a couple of tracks. Jay Anderson, whom I’ve seen on many notable sessions over the years, anchors down the low end on acoustic bass, Luis Conte supplies the percussion, while Jon Crosse provides all the woodwinds and flute.

With a crew of open-minded, seasoned pro’s assembled, Witham made a jazz record for sure, but often grafted in parts of other kinds of music. It makes for an eclectic mix, a mix that keeps the listener engaged and wondering what will happen next.

Take, for example, the lead-off tune “The Neon,” which is a double-timed electric-piano/acoustic bass-fronted ostinato underpinned by electronica-styled rhythms and effects. “N.O. Rising” sports a pleasant, creole backbeat and pedal steel by Bill Frisell collaborator Greg Leisz that makes it sound it came from a Brian Blade Fellowship release. This has the most pleasant sounding melody of the entire album, but is no less uncompromising.

The Anderson-penned “Momentuum” is a free-flowing piece suspended from time-keeping and held together only by Witham stating the melody via an accordion. Even though Cline isn’t on this piece, it evokes his work with whack jazz accordion player Andrea Parkins. “The Circle” is a heavily purcussive piece that features some nice, tight interplay among Amendola, Conte and Anderson, before Witham takes over with some fluid soloing that calls to mind Lyle Mays. As a matter of fact, the whole song could fit right in a Pat Metheny Group record, sans Metheny himself.

“Afrobeat” gets going with the sub-Saharan percussion at the four minute mark, when Anderson’s bass riff emerges. With the insistent African rhythm, stand up funk bass and Witham’s spaced out electric piano, it’s almost a dead ringer for a Herbie Hancock Mwandishi tune. Cline’s weirdly wah-wah’ed guitar provides an additional dimension, that rock element that Miles brought to his fusion of around the same time.

“Who Knows” and “Light and Life” shifts gears into lyrical ballad territory via acoustic trio territory. It’s here where Witham’s rapport with long-time associate Anderson really shines. The ending “Con Quien” is like those two a more quiet piece, but Leisz’ pedal steel provides a mildly country flavor.

Did I mention that with the exception of “Momentuum” and “Who Knows”, all of these diverse tunes were composed by the same person? That’s right, David Witham. Amazing how a guy barely known can still be so surprising, when you consider the crowd he runs with. But with a disc like Spinning The Circle, he’s a guy whose music is something I wouldn’t mind with getting much better acquainted.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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