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August 2008

Jessica Williams
Songs for a New Century
Origin Records

Songs for a New Century is an intensely personal real-time document. Jessica Williams composed all but one of the nine pieces, and recorded the album herself. She says in the liner notes that this solo album “is what I’m hearing and seeing now. … This has been my life of late.” It is about emerging from the grieving of the post-9/11 years and giving herself permission to hope again. (In musical terms, it is a broad transition from D minor to G major.)

More than most pianists, Williams understands how her instrument, treated properly, can be a direct conduit of emotion. She is technically sophisticated but no longer has any need to prove it. “If Only” is minimal in its chord movements and its melodic rise and fall. But Williams’ subtle touch, sensitivity to tone production and soft, bright tremolos embody fragile hope. Another seemingly simple, quietly affirmational piece in G major is “Fantasia.” It is a hovering suspension, with unceasingly solemn circular chords and a narrative that barely moves, but finally does move, inward, then upward.

In her articulate liner notes, Williams says of the album, “I feel that it’s my best work so far in terms of clarity, focus, and depth of feeling.” Artists are often wrong about such things. Not this time.

Originally published in August 2008
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