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Mary Lou Williams: Live at Keystone Korner

The press release for Mary Lou Williams’ Live at the Keystone Korner (High Note) correctly states that there is a dearth of recordings currently available by this major artist. Unfortunately, the recording quality of this 1977 performance is not up to the standards of many other recently released live recordings from this fabled San Francisco venue. Eddie Marshall’s drum kit is poorly represented, and bassist Larry Gales is often not in tune with the Korner’s piano. Williams’ finest compositions are also not included here.

The best performances illustrate how strong a pianist Williams was, particularly her own “Gloria,” in which the complexity of her two-handed interaction does not in any way diminish the precise, driving swing she attains. The Williams solo feature “The History of Jazz According to Mary Lou,” in which she segues from spiritual to drag blues, fast blues, swing and boogie in consistently entertaining fashion, is also first rate.

The versions of “A Night in Tunisia,” “The Jeep Is Jumpin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Stormy Weather,” “‘Round Midnight” and “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” add nothing to our appreciation of these warhorses or Williams’ pianistic artistry, and she and Gales do not appear to be referring to the same chord changes on the latter tune. Gales and Marshall provide proper rhythmic support but never solo. The recording might have benefited from that extra flavor.

Originally Published