Bradley Williams is a talented, resourceful jazz musician who, for two years in the mid-1980s, was pianist/arranger with Woody Herman
's Thundering Herd. He settled in Chicago, becoming house pianist at the legendary Gold Star Sardine Bar. They called it that because it could take only 50 people, though such was its reputation that stars such as Frank Sinatra
and Liza Minnelli performed there.
When the bar closed as a regular venue in 1997, Williams created The Original 21st Century Review
, a modern jazz variety show that toured nationally and internationally, on one occasion jamming with former US president and occasional saxophonist Bill Clinton.
This album showcases Williams' abilities as pianist and composer. He is accompanied by two mainstays of the Chicago scene, bassist Eric Hochberg and drummer Jim Widlowski, in a program of original compositions: seven by himself, five by Hochberg.
In another age Williams would probably be writing music for musicals à la Cole Porter
. Many of his songs have the structure and theatrical feel of show tunes. All are intelligent yet at the same time easy to listen to.
As a pianist, he combines some of the percussive flare of Ahmad Jamal
, all while remaining very much his own man. His playing is soulful, yet shorn of sentimentality andmercifullytotally lacking in pretension. He describes the music on this album as "kinda fun and interesting."
The lazily romantic "Twilight Prelude" sets the scene, calling to mind those old Busby Berkeley extravaganzas, though its structure is thoroughly modern.
It segues into the up-tempo, more overtly jazzy "Penultimatum" and the scene is set for a thoughtful, entertaining album. Hochberg's "The Garden," with its catchy chorus, Williams' bluesy "For Crowley" and the chunky "Clybourn Strut" are the standout tracks.
The quirky, melodic "Fish Samich" allows Widlowski to shine with some tasteful, understated drumming, ably supported by the two principals. "Waiting... Waiting..." is nicely pensive, though its theme comes round just a little too often for comfort.
The new mainstream at its very best.