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FOR JAZZ LISTENERS who associate drummer Steve Williams exclusively with light-footed swing and brush-stroked finesse -- the hallmarks of his signature, hand-in-glove collaborations with the late singer and pianist Shirley Horn -- "New Incentive" offers a different slant and additional pleasures.
Granted, this nine-track collection, with its brassy themes and crisp momentum, doesn't mark a sharp departure for the veteran Washington-bred drummer. Williams's affection for hard bop is a hardly a secret, and he has demonstrated his affinity for the music in various studio and concert settings through the years.
Yet "New Incentive" has distinct rewards, including four compositions by Williams and welcome cameos by trumpeter Roy Hargrove, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and the late pianist John Hicks.
Hargrove and Bartz help open the album with the hard-charging "Fulton & Lafayette," a Williams-penned, Art Blakey-esque fanfare, while Hicks brings a characteristic blend of melodic allure and harmonic invention to the drummer's mid-album reverie "Along My Way." The latter tune also provides a splendid showcase for Bartz's lyrical alto and Hargrove's muted horn.
You won't find Williams flashily asserting his role as leader on this session. His solos are compact, his purpose clear. Indeed, the enjoyment he derives from inspiring everyone here, including tenor Antoine Roney, trumpeter Donvonte McCoy, keyboardist Olivier Hutman and bassist Michael Bowie, couldn't be more obvious.

Review by Mike Joyce in Washington Post, Friday, February 23, 2007