Mark Williams: In The Beginning

Mark Sabbatini By

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Mark Williams
In the Beginning

Try as one might, the age factor can never be overlooked on albums like this—and here the geeks at Apple Computer virtually pound listeners on the head with it.

Guitarist Mark Williams, "12 years old" (that actually appears as part of the copyright), makes what appears to be a debut album of seven standards on In The Beginning. The "appears" comes from a complete lack of information anywhere, at least online, about him or the album. It seems to exist in its own world at the iTunes Music Store .

It seems safe to say Williams is a child prodigy: To a casual ear this is a graceful, mellow collection that won't stand out in stark contrast to someone who plays Joe Pass or Wes Montgomery in the background. That alone is likely to make this album a success to some degree, so the question becomes setting aside the age issue and looking at the depth of his artistic ability.

Here Williams is akin to a promising rookie forced into a ballgame, able to make some impressive plays but needing other players to execute a game plan that covers his weaknesses. His command of the compositions and basic phrasing off them is generally well developed, although a bit heavy on clichés and sometimes there's a sense he's retreating to previously played licks because he's run out of things to say. But he gets some protection from monotony by keeping all of the songs four or five minutes long and getting a lot of foundational support from a small ensemble of fellow players who ensure the basic harmonics and pacing is always professional. The names of the performers, incidentally, seem destined to obscurity without a hard copy of the linear notes, which one doesn't get when downloading albums.

Without promise there'd be no point in an album like this, of course, and Williams displays it with a consistent first-rate tone and some truly interesting passages. His twisting and bending of notes departs nicely from the strictly lyrical on "Lullaby Of Birdland," and he blends melodic embellishments with slow blues effectively on "Darn That Dream."

It's hard to know what to make of the Vince Guaraldi-like solo piano treatment on "Polkadots And Moonbeams"—either Williams is demonstrating a very effective double talent by playing here or it's simply a fill-in piece for his anonymous co-player. The same can be said of "All Blues," an organ-heavy jam with minimal guitar work.

The "12 years old" emphasis is no doubt designed to snare casual iTunes browsers who might otherwise pass over Williams' name without a second thought, and those who listen to the free preview snippets may well be tempted to spend $7 for a 32-minute album. There's likely to be a lot of "impressive for his age" comments and playing of it in casual situations, but it probably won't be substantial enough for intense listeners unless they're "scouting" his future prospects. On that front the potential is certainly there, but a number of other young players have disappeared from the scene after such albums when the novelty of age disappeared and they could no longer stand out in the field. The question will be whether Williams is willing not to simply rest on his promise, but make the always-evolving effort necessary to build on it.

Tracks: Satin Doll; Lullaby Of Birdland; Darn That Dream; Bye Bye Blackbird; Polkadots And Moonbeams; All Blues; A-Train.

Personnel: Mark Williams, acoustic and electric guitars. Information about other musicians unavailable.


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