|Washington Post Review:
"Y2K," the third and latest CD by saxophonist Byron Morris and Unity, is part celebration, part affirmation and part revelation. It's also thoroughly entertaining.
Taped at Blues Alley, an air of homecoming permeates the Washington-based ensemble's latest album, and the casual atmosphere is underscored by several familiar tunes and pianist Hilton Ruiz's own enticing Latin blues entree, "Home Cookin.' " At the same time, the performances evoke the band's enterprising 30-year history -- a long embrace of mainstream and forward-looking jazz -- and vividly showcases new (or relatively new) band recruits, including Ruiz, who joined Unity five years ago. The fiercely percussive attack and swirling chromatic designs the pianist displays on opening tracks "Home Cookin' " and "Inch Worm" immediately elevates the level of play. With his virtuosic yet frequently earthy touch, Ruiz also helps inspire fine performances by Morris, on alto and soprano, and singer Imani, who infuses "Inch Worm" with a mixture of romantic allure and vocal daring.
It's no mystery why trombonist Wycliffe Gordon chose to name his new CD "The Joyride," given its playful slant and frequently free-spirited momentum.. But which tune inspired the title? That's anyone's guess.
Perhaps it was "Blues Impromptus," the album's opening track, a boisterous boogie-inflected charmer laced with call-and-response riffs, colorfully manipulated 'bone tones, rhythmic fits and starts, and some gleeful soloing. Or maybe it was "The Island Boy," with its irresistibly festive pulse. Another likely candidate is "Just Going On," which, over the course of nearly nine minutes, leaves the impression that Gordon is enjoying a brassman's holiday down South, merrily melding the sounds of trumpet, trombone and tuba. Then again, even "Well Well Well (Walkin' the Blues)," a party novelty that's too long by half, might be the one.
Not surprisingly, much of the music here recalls Gordon's previous alliances with Wynton Marsalis in both small and large band settings, especially when he uses a plunger mute to create a rich vocabulary of smears, moans and groans. Yet each arrangement bears the stamp of Gordon's engaging personality, and the contributions made by reedman Victor Goines, pianist Farid Baron, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Herlin Riley often add harmonic nuance and subtle texture to the music.
-- Mike Joyce