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Jessica Williams: Billy’s Theme: A Tribute to Billy Taylor

To “get” Jessica Williams, you must experience her in person. Her audience is fiercely loyal, and her deep connection with them comes partly from the tension between her demure shyness and her utterly dominating piano. She is, in her own way, a super saleswoman of the keyboard and never lets anyone out of the room without closing the deal.

Not surprisingly, Williams’ best albums until now have been recorded in front of live audiences (e.g., the two volumes of Live at Yoshi’s, on MaxJazz). But Billy’s Theme was recorded by Williams direct to two-track hard disc, in the privacy of her home studio, with reasonable sonic success. It rocks.

The CD is dedicated to Williams’ friend and mentor Dr. Billy Taylor. There is some elegant new music for Taylor (e.g., the hymnlike “Finally Free” and the two glowingly melodic iterations of the title track). But mostly Williams honors a fellow pianist by cutting loose on her instrument. Her amusic sometimes approaches the exhilaration of a Keith Jarrett solo concert in its rushes of spontaneous discovery. Williams lets her imagination flow and goes wherever her hands take her, and like Jarrett she finds ways to make even her most far-flung digressions tie into one long arc, one suite of meditation. How could Billy Taylor not be pleased?

Originally Published