From sweeping dramatic crescendos to Monkish innuendo and straight-up ballad mastery, pianist Jessica Williams always seems to be on top of her game. And when you hear her play so creatively, you have to wonder why she is not as heralded as many other pianists in the straight-ahead jazz idiom. It's not like she has not recorded extensively for over the last thirty years for labels ranging from Jazz Focus to Landmark, Candid, and Concord. Nevertheless, she has probably never received as much critical and audience attention as she has since forming her current partnership with the MaxJazz label. And with releases such as this, her audience can only grow.
Following a string of critically acclaimed albums comes the sequel to last year's Live At Yoshi's Volume One
. Both releases are culled from two nights of recording back in July of 2003 and continue her consistent streak of straight-up invigorating jazz. This is evident from the onset of the record with "Flamenco Sketches. After a dramatic opening, she settles in for a performance that makes wonderful use of space, her economical use of notes blossoming in and around a melody that serves the song completely and establishes this performance as one of the more successful covers of the tune.
Some may argue that Williams may not be a trendsetter. However, something must be said for her originality and ability to create such remarkable music. She has a knack for taking endlessly worked over standards and reviving them with a fresh perspective and a creative mindset. She crafts a multilayered opening for "Why Do I Love You where each hand carries a different time and space, and her soft and plush rendition of "Summertime that closes this CD is also quite appealing.
In fact, many of these performances are vehicles of constant invention, rather than typical head-solo-head sequences. They breathe so that when you come to the close of a song, such as the eight-minute rendition of "Summertime, you really don't realize where a solo began or ended, you just remember the ebb and flow of creation.
Williams is joined by longstanding trio mates Ray Drummond and Victor Lewis, both of whom suffer from their own bit of undeserved obscurity. Drummond in particular is a monster bassist who articulates well and still maintains a deep resonating tone like that of Ray Brown. His omnipresent voice incorporates harmonics, chords, and a seemingly endless supply of melodic invention. Drummond's abilities are on full display throughout, and they're in ample evidence on Williams' own "Elbow Room, which is dedicated to John Coltrane but really serves as a prime example of her deft touch at interpreting and utilizing Thelonious Monk's vocabulary.
While nothing here is groundbreaking and the performance may even be considered a normal straight-ahead jazz date, when you hear musicians interpret songs with such heartfelt and remarkable invention, what does it matter?
Personnel: Jessica Williams: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Victor Lewis: drums.