Jessica Williams interprets our favorite standards like no other. She turns “As Time Goes By” into a history lesson, with mental images from the film Casablanca and outside quotes to fill in the cracks. Irving Berlin’s “All Alone” takes on a similar role, as the pianist’s crisp right hand dances lightly to a simple stride left, in search of what has made a century of good music wear so well. Like this lush ballad, the album sashays easily through familiar music that cries out with happiness. As Gene Kelly would dance casually down the street and sing merry songs to passers by, these gentle anthems make an impression on your soul.
“Don’t Explain” carries the most weight, of course. Williams supplies her own interpretation, which explores the future as well as the past. A left hand recollection of the way we were merges naturally with a right hand that’s thirsty for new adventures. The Mingus piece adds more thrills, and then Williams closes out the session with another pensive ballad.
The album captures the essence of the blues, but remains near and dear to the true purpose of improvised art: to create an entity upon which one can rely for inspiration. Four originals change the pace somewhat. Her “The Sheikh” sizzles with an intensity and dramatic beauty not found elsewhere. The excitement rolls out like horsemen charging in all directions to spread the news. Most of the album, however, carries this message to the listener with a slower gait: one that ensures the music will arrive on time and in one piece.