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Jessica Williams: Art of the Piano

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Jessica Williams' third Origin Records CD, The Art of the Piano, brings to mind Brad Mehldau's Art of the Trio series that ran through five discs. In Mehldau's case the recordings were, of course, with his trio, featuring bassist FLY and drummer Jorge Rossy (later, Jeff Ballard). Williams' three sets on Origin are all solo efforts, and they are all marvelous explorations of the pianist's singular artistry.

Williams, who sat in with Philly Joe Jones' group back in the 1970s, is no stranger to playing in the trio format. Always a top tier, if somewhat under appreciated, musician, she seemed to rise to the very highest levels in that arena, really coming into her own with the release of Live at Yoshi's, Vol. 1 (MAXJAZZ, 2004) and Live at Yoshi's, Vol. 2 (MAXJAZZ, 2005), both featuring bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis. Seemed is the key word, because Williams' blossoming can truly be traced to her striking out and setting up her own label, Red and Blue Recordings, back in 1997, on which can be found several stellar trio outings including Some Ballads, Some Blues (2001), Now (2004), and For John Coltrane (2005).

Red and Blue Recordings notwithstanding, John Bishop, of Seattle-based Origin Records, has given Williams another outlet with three extraordinary solo piano discs: Billy's Theme (2006), Songs for a New Century (2008), and now, Art of the Piano, recorded live at the Triple Door in Seattle, Washington.

Williams' approach is one of supple, refined elegance that moves easily into percussive muscularity and earthiness, as on the set's opener, "Triple Door Blues." Her fluidity and grace—and the profound beauty of her art—are both on display on "Esperanza," while "Love and Hate" has an exploratory, inward feel and "Elaine" brims with reverence and joy.

Six of the eight tunes are Williams originals, but she covers "First Gymnopedie," from the pen of Eric Satie with buoyant momentum and deep introspection. Williams is especially adept at getting inside the musical souls of fellow music-makers, artists as disparate as Art Tatum on Tatum's Ultimatum; Thelonious Monk on Deep Monk and Billy Taylor on Billy's Theme. Here, she treats John Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament" with respect, imbuing it with a mesmerizing spirituality that does the supremely spiritual 'Trane proud.

Art of the Piano is another stunningly beautiful set by Williams; solo piano gets no better than this.

Track Listing: Triple Door Blues; Esperanza; Love and Hate; Elaine; First Gymnopedie; Prophets; Diane; Lonnie's Lament.

Personnel: Jessica Williams: piano.

Title: Art of the Piano | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Origin Records


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