This time last year saw the debut release of West Coast pianist Jessica Williams for MAXJAZZ. This Side Up
(2002), an exceptional standard trio offering, blew over the piano landscape like a nuclear tsunami, flattening all lesser offerings at the time. Williams's encyclopedic understanding of the many schools of jazz piano and the styles of those schools' greatest practitioners prompted this writer to say,
...Ms. Williams has the facility to play in any damn style she likes, thank you! In the end Jessica Williams plays like Jessica Williams....
So what, then, does Williams do to follow up such a recording? She prepares a splendid solo recital. She opens the festivities with "As Time Goes By" where she strolls through about a dozen styles and squeezes as many ideas into five minutes as Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson ever thought to do, and without the showoff potential. Williams shows her love for Ellington by performing "In a Sentimental Mood" followed by the beautiful "Warm Valley." "Mood" is performed with a very Monkish left hand, characterized by simple 4/4 chording. She follows Ellington with two very personal and introspective Berlin pieces, the title cut and "They Say It’s Wonderful."
Jessica Williams shows offer her considerable composing talents on four pieces, beginning with the Oriental-tinged "Toshiko," a loving homage to bandleader Toshiko Akiyoshi. "The Sheikh" contains some provocative damping of the piano strings along with some other interesting percussive effects. Nominally a blues "Sheikh" stretches in depth and breadth, revealing itself as the centerpiece of this very fine set of performances.
The disc closes with two desperately different compositions. The first is Mingus’s "Orange was the Color of Her Dress Then Blue Silk." Williams provides this troublesome piece of music with a balladic sheen, a worthy tribute to Mingus, the exasperating genius. The closing piece is a lovely "Too Young to Go Steady" a beautiful innocent closer to as fine a piano recording as we are likely to hear this year. One can only hope that Williams continues her very fertile relationship with MAXJAZZ.
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