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January/February 2005

Jessica Williams
Live at Yoshi's Volume One
MaxJazz

To label a modern jazz artist a "two-handed" pianist isn't the blatantly obvious statement it seems. Ever since the bop era, pianists have generally jettisoned the left hand orchestral foundations that bolstered earlier ragtime, stride and swing styles. Jessica Williams is having no part of all that. The trio CD Live at Yoshi's: Volume One (MaxJazz), recorded in 2003, finds the eclectic veteran demonstrating the rich and varied two-handed interplay that sets Williams apart from her peers.

So it comes as no shock when she delves into stride on "I'm Confessin' That I Love You," walking bass lines on "You Say You Care," elaborately woven introductions a la Tatum and other fulsome techniques that spark her poised playing and thoughtful improvisations. Sharp-eared trio mates are essential with a stylist as effusive as Williams, and she gets them in bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis. The two A-list journeymen who resist clutter and are clued in to the pianist's tangents. The easy glide that all three engage in during "Mysterioso" flaunts the same communicative spirit exhibited on the hard grooving "Alone Together" and the restrained funk behind "Tutu's Promise." Despite the obvious empathy of the Williams-Drummond-Lewis triumvirate, the leader's dexterous work leaves little doubt that she could handle the whole shebang all by herself, if need be.

Still, Williams can reign in her resources when called for; her lyrical statements on "Poem in G Minor" and "I Want to Talk About You" reveal a creator firmly in touch with her inner editor. And you have to give it up for any pianist who uncovers a 1974 ballad ("Heather") composed by Billy Cobham.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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