Jessica Williams: Songs of Earth

If there were a lifetime achievement award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition, this veteran West Coast pianist would have it in her criminally modest trophy case. Her sixth disc for the Origin label supposedly differs from the others for its heavy emphasis on spontaneous composition, with the material culled from live solo performances over the past few years at the Triple Door in Seattle, near her home. But just as Williams has previously demonstrated an ability to unearth unpredictable elements in even the hoariest standards, her vivid, theoretically unfettered imagination is naturally abetted by her conceptual command and technical brilliance here, mooting most of the distinctions between covers, originals and improvisation in her work.

Thus, the lone cover among the seven tunes on Songs of Earth, John Coltrane’s relatively obscure “To Be,” roams as fearlessly as the multifaceted classical-flamenco-jazz meld she whips up on the spontaneous tribute “Montoya.” And the likes of “Deayrhu” and “The Enchanted Loom” couldn’t be better shaped if Williams had notated every bit of them. The former builds off a five-note refrain into a gradual rustling of symphonic grandeur, coasting down with a call-and-response that is more like birds signaling each other across the pond than any pulpit-and-pew dialogue. The latter opens with a catchy rhythm and mushrooms into a resplendent 5/4 raga.

Williams has now released some 40 albums over the course of her career. It’s amusing how frequently critics conclude a rave review by claiming this or that record to be “one of her best yet.” So I’ll just note that Songs of Earth is typical, immediately recognizable to longtime fans not only for the virtues mentioned earlier, but for its soulful yet unsentimental caress of the ivories and the prominent integration of both hands in the sonic ply of her weave.