BEST JAZZ ARTIST - 2008
At 88 grand years of age, tenor saxophone icon Irv Williams could very well rest on his considerable laurels, which include nearly seven decades on the Twin Cities jazz scene as a musician and educator. Instead, Williams continues to explore the rich arsenal of elegant emotions he uses to vividly color jazz ballads, not only on a busy schedule of live dates but also in a recent relative flood of recordings. This year's Finality, issued on his own Ding-Dong label, is Williams's fourth new album since 2004, each distinguished by the wonderfully warm and glowing tone that inspired former Pioneer Press critic Bob Protzman to dub him "Mr. Smooth." Williams also imbues his playing with a quietly passionate lyricism that's riddled with deftly nuanced mysteries. His gorgeous solo on Finality's "Debra's Dream" is wistful, a little bittersweet, and light as air yet luminous with substance. Williams, joined by the classy local jazz quartet of Kenny Horst, Gordy Johnson, Peter Schimke, and Loren Walstad, mixes up the ballads with some swing and blows up a storm with fellow tenor Gus Sandberg on the Ellington/Hodges classic "Castle Rock." Williams has declared Finality to be his last album, which we can only hope is hyperbole. He continues playing sublime jazz remarkable for a musician of any age.