Jeff Williams: Bloom (Whirlwind)

A review of the drummer's album featuring Carmen Staaf and Michael Formanek

Jeff Williams, Bloom
The cover of Bloom by Jeff Williams

Listening to Bloom reminds me of my first encounters with Ralph Peterson’s Triangular. Both records are drummer-led trio affairs, with an upcoming pianist busting moves that wax communal while stealing the show a bit. JazzTimes readers probably recall the pianist on Peterson’s 1989 jewel: Geri Allen. Carmen Staaf fans, a growth demographic, will be happy to learn that this engaging session is where their hero shines bright. Throughout a scad of breezy arrangements, Staaf continuously elevates the music while bolstering the offhand intricacies of her mates, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer/leader Jeff Williams.

One of freebop’s beauties is the way it can wiggle toward either side of its equation at a moment’s notice. Williams encourages his team to run with this notion, making agility job one here. Agility and momentum, I should say. The drummer has a way of spinning his phrases into a web of propulsion that delivers opportunities for Formanek and Staaf, whose lines splash and course like a valley stream overflowing from a winter snow melt. On “A Word Edgewise,” the trio heeds the theme while toying with its stretching points. The rhythm section is all about leeway, and Staaf dazzles by turning a series of discrete flurries into a keenly architected solo.

The pianist has earned props from her other drummer/boss (Allison Miller) for an unusually deep rhythmic aplomb, and indeed Bloom’s “She Can’t Be a Spy” finds ways to have Staaf deliver the thrust while Williams blows lyrical around the entire trap set. The hard groove of “Scattershot,” feisty floating of “Search Me,” and Monkish punctuation of “Short Tune” allow the threesome to milk these devilish switcheroos, revealing that Williams has built a truly crafty cohort to carry out his mission of nurturing spontaneity.

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Jim Macnie

Jim Macnie is a music writer who contributes to DownBeat and blogs at Lament For a Straight Line. He’s been working in digital media since since 2000, initially as VH1.com’s Managing Editor and, currently, as a Senior Producer and Editor at Vevo. He enjoys Little Jimmie Dickens, Big Joe Turner and Medium Medium.