James Gordon Williams: Unrepeatable Life (2005)
There are no real overnight sensations in jazz, except perhaps in the most pop/crossover way, so to call James Gordon Williams a "newcomer is a disservice to the man, but it is still a great surprise to hear an artist's first full-length record and discover not a warmed-over collection of warhorse standards, but a sure-handed statement by a fully-formed composer and performer.
Characterizing Unrepeatable Life, a word which keeps cropping up is "diversity a stylistic diversity that transcends a straight-ahead jazz modus operandi, despite the bebop acuity of this impressive trio, which includes bassist Martin Wind, late of Bill Mays and several headlining projects, and veteran drummer/percussionist/M'Boomite Warren Smith, who is the secret weapon on this session (as he is in the jazz world in general).
Williams' writing is marked by intensely lyrical and evocative melodic elements which are sometimes staggered with pointed chordal syncopations, adding depth, dimension, and a feeling of seeming serenity against constant motion. Over the course of the record, his influences pull at each other sympathetically, creating startling, defined stylistic flashes. "Harlem Tango benefits greatly from his joyful dichotomy, his piano accenting the dancehall dramatics with subtle gospel asides and joining the masterful Wind in breathless tutti phrases.
Warren Smith shines on the Eastern-flavored opener, "Dance of the Hopeful, with Williams' melody spiraling in a tightly controlled descent through the deft meter shifts framed by the bass and drums, eventually lighting on a spirited call and response with the drummer. Smith simmers through it all, his cymbals alternately dancing across the bar lines and falling like a hard rain.
The pianist stretches on "Eight Phrases for a Flower, perhaps the most openended tune on the record, and the freedom from the tighter structure of other compositions allows Williams large windows to explore and showcase his formidable improvisational and technical skills. In between moments of stillness, upper-range runs explode into glittering cascades.
A highlight featuring Martin Wind is the swaggering "Burno, apparently a tribute to bassist Dwayne, as is the other bass tribute track, "Windborne, whose opening allows Wind a lovely arco solo that gives way to fleet footed waltz suggesting a Bill Evans-esque clarity. Clearly the most striking and spiritually vibrant tune is the profound meditation "True Love of God, featuring a deeply emotive guest vocal by Nori Nke-Aka and a suitably reverent trio.
A subtle exoticism permeates nearly every track on Unrepeatable Life, and each is possessed of a profound weight of feeling. These are songs with stories to tell- emotion fairly dripping from each bar, akin to deep answers to simple questions. The fact that the album was named for the solo piano track dedicated to the life of his late father isn't surprising at all. It is, after all, all about emotion. An extremely impressive debut.
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Track Listing: Dance of the Hopeful; Why Must I Pursue this Dream; Harlem Tango; True Love of God; Unrepeatable Life; Eight Phrases for a Flower; Burno; Genesis of Svengali's Gimmick; Windborne; It Feels Good To Play; Reprise.
Personnel: James Gordon Williams: piano; Martin Wind: bass; Warren Smith: drums; Nori Nke-Aka: voice.