Mars Williams’ Ayler Xmas, Friday, December 1, 7:30pm, Gateway City Arts, Holyoke

Mars Williams

featuring Mars Williams, tenor and soprano saxophone, Joe McPhee, tenor saxophone and trumpet, Jeb Bishop, trombone, Joe Morris, guitar, Nate McBride, bass, Chris Corsano, drums, Gateway City Arts, 92 Race St., Holyoke, MA

With an all-star cast, Mars Williams presents: An Ayler Xmas, the Music of Albert Ayler and Songs of Xmas. Williams formed Witches & Devils in Chicago in the late 90s to play Ayler’s deeply spiritual music. The group released one terrific live album, Empty Bottle Chicago, (Knitting Factory Records) in 2000, but not long after that the project ceased to be a working concern. In 2010, Williams revived the idea, playing holiday pieces in the spirit of Ayler’s music, blending raucous, keening gospelized intonation, split tones, and high register cries, usually over roiling free rhythm. And like the group’s inspiration, the tunes are often arranged in medleys, sometimes fused to Ayler compositions like “Spirits,” “Bells,” or “Truth Is Marching In.”

Mars Williams is an open-minded musician, composer and educator who commutes easily between free jazz, funk, hip-hop and rock. Williams has played and recorded with The Psychedelic Furs, Billy Idol, Massacre, Fred Frith, Bill Laswell, Ministry, Power Station, Hal Russell, Pete Cosey, DJ Logic, Wayne Kramer, John Scofield, Charlie Hunter, Kurt Elling, Swollen Monkeys, Mike Clark, Jerry Garcia, Friendly Fires, The Untouchables, and virtually every leading figure of Chicago’s and New York City’s “downtown” scene.

John Zorn credits Williams as “one of the true saxophone players–someone who takes pleasure in the sheer act of blowing the horn. This tremendous enthusiasm is an essential part of his sound, and it comes through each note every time he plays. Whatever the situation, Mars plays exciting music. In many ways he has succeeded in redefining what versatility means to the modern saxophone player.”

Despite his busy touring schedule with Liquid Soul and The Psychedelic Furs, Williams is active on the Chicago underground improvising scene. In recent years he has toured and recorded with the Peter Brötzmann Tentet, Switchback, Full Blast, Scorch Trio, the Vandermark 5, Boneshaker, Chicago Reed Quartet and Cinghiale, teaming him with such musicians as Hamid Drake, Michael Zerang, William Parker, Kent Kessler, Paal Nilssen-Love, Mike Reed, Harrison Bankhead, Dave Rempis, Kidd Jordan and Matts Gustafson.

In addition to performing and creating music, Mars has been an educator in the field of woodwinds and jazz improvisation for over thirty years. Mars held the position of Woodwind Instructor at Bard College for two years. In the last few years Mars has presented Master classes and clinics to a number of private and public institutions including, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the University of Chicago, Roosevelt University (Chicago, IL), and June Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art (Auburn, AL).