Focus

James Williams & Dennis Irwin

SKU: 206-1-1-1-1

1. Focus
2. Mimosa
3. For My Nephews
4. In A Sentimental Mood
5. Invitation

James Williams, Piano
Dennis Irwin, Bass

Recorded At Studio 67
Bologna, Italy, December 6, 1977
First Edition (1978) Produced By Alberto Alberti,
Executive Producer: Sergio Veschi
Art Direction: Marco Pennisi
Cover Photo: Pino Ninfa
James Williams E Dennis Irwin: Luisa Cairati
Booklet Photo: Pino Ninfa
Inlay Photo: Carlo Pieroni
Remastered By Rinaldo Donati
At Maxine Studio, Milano
Executive Producer: Marco Pennisi
Ehm Srl, Milano

Taken from the original tapes, restored and remixed in 2023.

When Sergio Veschi and Alberto Alberti, decided to record the duo, it was evident that they were aware that they were dealing with some excellent young musicians, albeit almost unknown at the time.
Williams, in fact, was a pianist with only one record to his credit as leader, Flying Colors, recently recorded on 6 July 1977 with trombonist Slide Hampton, while for Irwin Focus, who was about to record for Red Records together with the Memphis musician, it would be the only record of his activity as (co)leader. Taking advantage of the Italian dates of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers tour, Alberti proposed to Wiliams and Irwin to record a piano and double bass duo.
The duo recorded five pieces in all, one of which was by Williams, two by Irwin and two standards. Focus was released in 1978 and had a limited circulation mainly in Italy. Technical problems that had occurred at the recording stage, which have now been completely resolved, induced Red Records not to transfer the session to compact disc when, at the beginning of the 1980s, this medium came onto the market. Thus Focus was destined for a long and undeserved oblivion, from which it is now finally being rescued by this reissue that will be a pleasant novelty for many fans.

Focus, the album’s title composition, which would be recorded several times by Williams in the studio and performed in concert, is a piece with a fresh melody that is articulated over a moving rhythm. After the exposition of the theme, Williams’ solo develops with great rationality and has a great swing supported by Irwin’s solid work. The double bassist’s subsequent solo showcases his splendid timbre as well as a deep, crisp and precise cavata.
In a Sentimental Mood was composed by Duke Ellington in 1935 in Durham, North Carolina. On its genesis Ellington stated: ‘…we had played a big dance in a tobacco warehouse, and later a friend of mine, an executive of the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, had organised a party. I was playing the piano when another of our friends had some trouble with two girls. To calm them down, I composed this song there and then, with a girl on each side of the piano’. The interpretation provided by Williams and Irwin is exemplary right from the piano introduction which, at least initially, brings to mind the suspended atmosphere of Billy Strayhorn. Although the entire performance is marked by the utmost relaxation, nevertheless there is an intimate internal tension that runs through the entire piece and that captures the listener without allowing him or her to divert attention from the duo’s articulate narrative. If it is true, as Coleman Hawkins maintained, that every solo must tell a story, then Williams and Irwin are splendid storytellers, capable of keeping us focused on their discourse from beginning to end.
The more than thirteen minutes in which this standard is articulated show how it was actually divided into various moments, all perfectly identifiable, and how they are endowed with their own internal balance and emotional peak, almost as if they were independent micro-compositions contained within the same piece. The maturity with which Williams and Irwin tackle one of Ellington’s masterpieces is truly astonishing when compared to the young age of the musicians.
Marco Giorgi