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Jessica Williams: Live At Yoshi's Volume One

Chris May By

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It's all too easy to let piano trio albums pass you by. The format is so familiar, and the palette so thoroughly explored, that the prospect of adventure and surprise may seem remote. If it's not the Esbjorn Svensson Trio or the Bad Plus, packing their radical hairstyles and digital effects, the music can find itself cursorily dismissed as predictable and pedestrian, at best, or cocktail bar irrelevancy, at worst.

Which is why you won't find Jessica Williams written about on the more self-consciously modish jazz pages. A mature artist at the peak of her powers, her joyous and uplifting music is an exquisite balm for tired ears and souls, moving with easy assurance between funked-up two-fisted exuberance and limpid delicacy.

Thelonious Monk is frequently cited as a significant influence—by listeners and by Williams herself—and sure enough this album opens with a Monkish "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" and closes with Monk's own "Mysterioso" (seguing into "Blue Monk"). There are further echoes of Monk and others of Hampton Hawes, but it is Williams herself who resonates most powerfully through the set, always swinging, often taking delightfully unexpected harmonic twists and turns, and with a masterful sense of pacing and dynamic variation.

Two of the standout tracks here are hugely reminiscent of EST and TBP and, either by accident or design, grouped one after the other in the running order: Williams' own "Tutu's Promise" (9'30") is a blues/funk gumbo heavy on bass frequency ostinato (and some inventive sonic effects), while her arrangement of Billy Cobham's "Heather" (6'29") is as spectral and trippy as anything in the EST oeuvre.

Williams is superbly accompanied by Ray Drummond and Victor Lewis, who recorded with her first on 2001's This Side Up , a mainly-originals set in contrast to this mainly-standards affair. There is a strong feeling of comradeship and shared purpose between the three musicians. They're fortunate to have each other and it sounds like they know it.

A joy listen to. Roll on Volume Two.

Track Listing: I'm Confessin' That I Love You; Say It Over and Over Again; You Say You Care; Tutu's Promise; Heather; Alone Together; Poem in G Minor; I Want to Talk About You; Mysterioso

Personnel: Jessica Williams (piano), Ray Drummond (bass), Victor Lewis (drums)

Title: Live at Yoshi's Volume One | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: MAXJAZZ

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