Jessica Williams: All Alone

Jessica Williams continues to amaze with her endless versatility on All Alone (MaxJazz). This collection of standards and originals seems to belie her own comment: “I’ve always wanted to be a musician. Sometimes, all alone, I am.” After listening to this CD, one must paraphrase Descartes: “I swing, therefore I am.” “As Time Goes By” and “In a Sentimental Mood” contain nods in the direction of Erroll Garner that evolve so naturally after playing her clean single lines over a gentle jazz march. “Warm Valley” is another Ellington gem that should be taken out and aired more often. The same could be said of Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful”: too many pianists consider it a singer’s turf. Regarding another Berlin chestnut, “All Alone,” Williams decided to have some fun. She takes it as a straight waltz but refuses to stoop to “oom-pah-pah,” so there is plenty of split stride. By the fourth chorus, she shows her impatience with the original chords and caps it off with a bit of Monkish mischief. She dabbles in the pentatonic scale in “Toshiko,” an original that shows her reverence for her Japanese colleague, Toshiko Akiyoshi. It’s a first-rate album that underscores Williams’ strengths: technique, harmonic taste and her love for swinging.