Pianist Deanna Witkowski has been studying the life and work of pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams for twenty years. This has resulted in her writing a biography of the artist, Mary Lou Williams; Music For The Soul (Liturgical Press, 2021) and making this companion album of her interpretations of Williams' music.
Working in a trio format with occasional trumpet from Clay Jenkins, Witkowski covers all phases of Williams' musical career, her time writing for Andy Kirk in the '30s, trio recordings, parts of her extended "Zodiac Suite" and even her later religious writing. The pianist plays with a muscular swagger which meshes nicely with the hard-edged sense of swing present in Williams' writing. Witkowski's trio with Daniel Foose on bass and Scott Latzky on drums brings a sense of cool elegance into the bluesy inflections on "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?," the ebullient swinging on "Lonely Moments" where Jenkins pipes up like Dizzy Gillespie, and the downbeat darkness of "Dirge Blues," written after the assassination of President John Kennedy.
The more sombre side of Williams' work is brought out in Witkowski's tender investigation of the "Cancer" section of "Zodiac Suite" and the "Act of Contrition" segment of the later "Mary Lou's Mass," with Jenkins' trumpet quietly mournful, and the rhythm section delicately supportive. The pianist also brings in an original piece dedicated to Williams, "Force of Nature," a sprightly samba rhythm which fits in with other tracks such as the relaxed unravelling of "Stompin' At The Savoy" and Williams' arrangement of "My Blue Heaven" set against a relentless Latin vamp. This version works up an impish groove where the leader's piano pushes slyly against the rolling rhythm laid down by an alternative rhythm section of bassist Dwayne Dolphin and drummer Roger Humphries.
Deanna Witkowski plays with grace and swing which are a natural fit for the deeply soulful spirit of Mary Lou Williams' recordings. This is an excellent piano album by any measure, and a fitting tribute to the subtle power of Williams' music.
Gjon Mill Jam Session; Aries; Taurus; Cancer / Act of Contrition; Lonely Moments; What's Your Story,
Morning Glory? / Ghost of Love; Force of Mature; Intermission; Dirge Blues; Carcinoma; Stompin' at the
Savoy; My Blue Heaven.