Jessica Williams Trio: Freedom Trane (2011)
It is no coincidence that pianist Jessica Williams draws inspiration and energy from saxophonist John Coltrane, another iconoclast whose dogged pursuit of his individalistic muse stood in defiance of trends, customs, critics, and marketplace concerns. Like Coltrane, Williams prides herself in being relentlessly faithful to her own standards of how to play and how to market her music. While that enables her to be a fiercely independent talent, it has also made her an underrated one.
On her solo piano outings, such as The Art of the Piano (Origin Records, 2009), Williams' playing is engaging while remaining serious and cerebral. Augmented on Freedom Trane by bassist Dave Captein and drummer Mel Brown, Williams shows off her ability to swing. Never loosing her impeccable sense of taste, Williams is downright frisky and playful on Coltrane and Sonny Rollins' "Paul's Pal" and, on the title track, she's bopping and grooving hard with Brown's timekeeping, which is right in the pocket. It's the sort of tune that demands another listen just as soon as it's over.
As a soloist in the trio format, Williams is simply incandescent and the musicians synchronize like a well-tuned machine. Freedom Trane is a homage to Coltrane's seminal A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), but Williams' goal is not to emulate what Trane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones did in 1964, but to expand upon it. "Prayer and Meditation," one of four Williams originals, fits comfortably with a lovingly rendered interpretation of Coltrane's "Naima," where the Steinway 'B' gently caresses like a warm touch. The lush and verdant "Welcome" closes out this super session.
Williams reveals in the liner notes how Coltrane speaks to her as she writes:
John speaks through his horn: "no road is an easy one, but they all go back to God." God, for me, is us, all of us and everything; it's the sea and the sky and the stars. We are star-stuff, we are one vibration in a standing wave, and it doesn't matter if it's called God or Allah or Aum or Chi or Orgone. It's gravity and light-years and galaxies colliding and little kittens kittening and bodily love and that chill you get when you listen to great music or see a great painting or hear the sounds of the forest.
Maybe not everything Williams says scans completely, but it's possible to hear her making her way on a spiritual journey, and Freedom Trane provides that special sort of chill that comes from hearing great musicand this is most definitely great music, made by a great (and sadly underrated artist). This is a high quality and highly recommended performance by Williams, a consummate musician of astonishing grace, passion and skill.
Track Listing: The Seeker; Lonnie's Lament; Freedom Trane; Paul's Pal; Prayer and Meditation; Just Words; Naima; Welcome
Personnel: Jessica Williams: piano; Dave Captein: bass; Mel Brown: drums