Over the course of a career that spans near-three decades, James Williams has earned the sobriquet "the pianist's pianist." He's has been at the top of the A-list, first-call sideman since his Art Blakey days ('77 to '81). A lifelong disciple of the great Phineas Newborn, Williams is one of the few cats who totally "got" him. Bless that with individual style (deep harmonics, fluid two-hand razzle-dazzle, technique up the yin-yang), mad composer-producer skills, pure four/five-star solo recordings and you got a future hall-of-famer. So why ain't he on a major label?
It's doubtful his scintillating new collection of standards Classic Encounters will enlighten the clueless. All-Stars? Do Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, Nicholas Payton, Mark Whitfield, Vanessa Rubin, Miles Griffith and Roger Holland qualify? Classic encounters? Look no further than "My Shining Hour." Ron in fine fast-stepping form, Billy cold swinging, Mark sweet-bopping octaves, James lacing comps with two-handed panache while straight down the middle, Miles ad-libs-tapdances-growls-scats-birdcalls-croons Harold Arlen's lyrics into self-fulfilling prophecy.
The rest-"Strike Up the Band" (Nick grooving high, Ron and Billy fast slapping dap down below), "Come Sunday" (Holland works Duke on the gospel-angel tip), "I Got Rhythm" (a "Poinciana"-feeling groove; Mark pithy, pungent, misterioso) is all cheddar. Truth in advertising.