There's an old photo of Irv Williams as a child on the cover of Finality, and its caption—"1925: A dapper and serious six-year-old"—isn't just a lighthearted nod toward the dapper and serious man he's become, it's a vivid reminder of just how long the local tenor sax player and jazz legend has been with us. Born around the same time that Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were starting to get their careers rolling, Williams has spent an entire lifetime around jazz, picking up the sax over 75 years ago and refusing to put it down even as he approaches 90. But despite his ongoing presence as a performer in the local jazz scene, Finality does provide a closure of sorts: Williams has declared it to be his last recorded album.
Recorded in a one-day session last September, Finality teams Williams with a number of local veterans and previous collaborators, including drummer Kenny Horst, pianist Peter Schimke, guitarist Loren Walstad, and bassist Gordy Johnson. They make for a tight unit, especially on ballads like the Sinatra-popularized David Mann composition "Wee Small Hours" and longtime standard "Old Folks"—though they also propel a livelier Williams through some effortlessly nimble mid-tempo numbers ("Come Rain or Come Shine"; "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams") that give Schimke plenty of space to stretch out. And while a couple of duets with fellow tenor sax player Gus Sandberg ("Tivoli" and "Castle Rock") complement him well, Irv still sounds gripping without accompaniment. His own soft, bright tone stands rich and full on original compositions and solo showcases "Debra's Dream" and "Filling in the Spaces." Finality is as characteristically smooth and unresigned as an Irv Williams farewell should be—and enough to make you wonder if that farewell's a little hasty.