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James Williams All-Stars: Classic Encounters

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.

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