Jessica Williams: Songs for a New Century (2008)
Williams' Songs For A New Century, a solo piano outing, reveals an evolving artist. Williams thinks it may be her best work. A re-spin of her outstanding Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (MaxJazz, 2004)a trio affair featuring bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewisspotlights an artist making beautiful sounds and taking beautiful risks within a mainstream framework, a pianist with the joyousness and flair of Erroll Garner, the swinging virtuosity of Oscar Peterson, the depth of emotion of Bill Evans, the sly pizazz of Fats Waller and the soul of John Coltrane.
Songs for a New Century is a step forward. The set of all Williams originals, and one Sonny Rollins tune"A Blessing in Disguise"opens with "Empathy," an achingly beautiful ballad full of delicate, crystalline notes in a teardrop melodya spiritually salubrious sound if there ever was one. "Toshiko," for pianist/big band leader Toshiko Akiyoshi, glows eastward sporting a Japanese aura, with Williams making koto sounds, via the tool kit lady's mechanical tweaking (?) of the piano strings. "Dear Oscar," a nod to Oscar Peterson, swings easily on a bluesy late night roll, while "Spoken Softly" sounds like a gloriously implacable truth revealed.
Amazingly, Williams recorded this life-affirming set while wrapped in the life-draining, leaden embrace of hypothyroidism, when she had energy for her art and little else.
She is evolving; but multiple spins of this gorgeous music say that Williams must be very close to the absolute pinnacle of artistic growth on the enthralling Song for a New Century. With her diagnosis and subsequent management of her disease, who knows how far she can take her musical endeavors.
Track Listing: Empathy; Toshiko; Fantasia; Song for a Baby; Blessing in Disguise; Lament; Dear Oscar; Spoken Softly; If Only.
Personnel: Jessica Williams: piano.
Record Label: Origin Records
Style: Modern Jazz