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 like it came from a Brian Blade Fellowship album. This has the most pleasant sounding melody of the entire album, but is no less uncompromising.