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Jessica Williams: This Side Up

Jessica Williams’ debut for MaxJazz reveals many of her influences-Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Dexter Gordon, Miles, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins-and she honors them in her own way: she may quote them, but never imitates them. She has no need to. Williams’ style and technique embrace a very original combination of wit and grace, introspection and white heat.

Backed by dependable rhythm giants Ray Drummond, bass, and Victor Lewis, drums, Williams is free to soar and explore. Eight of the 10 tracks are originals, providing insight into her interpretive skills. Among Williams’ most impressive pianistic traits are the use of impressionistic clusters and cleanly executed arpeggios; excellent control of dynamic shadings and her tasteful, sparing swipes of the piano strings; her Monklike gap-filling (she disdains the use of the adjective “Monkish”); those clean arpeggios over Drummond’s arco drone ending “Blue Tuesday”; the humor of the polite Viennese “hiccups” (accenting the second beat) in the jazz waltz “Black Diamonds,” but when she’s goosed by Lewis, the jazz waltz cooks uninhibitedly.

There’s more: Williams’ call-and-response (the latter way up in the treble) in “Little Bird Song”; her own “Serenata” and “Innocence” provide insights into her intensely spiritual harmonic vocabulary; Drummond and Lewis lay down a no-nonsense foundation for Williams on the 12-bar blues “Miles to Go,” and she responds with a right hand line that allows her the luxury of well-placed bent tones.

After some 30 albums, why isn’t Jessica Williams a household name? Gender? I hope not. Her playing and writing are well beyond profile.

Originally Published