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James Williams & Bobby Watson: Soulful Serendipity

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It would be enough just to comment on the wonderful music on this CD, recorded in the unique and encouraging setting of a June 2003 "house concert," yet it also must be noted that this is probably one of the last recordings of the great pianist James Williams, who passed away in July 2004 at the age of 52.

The feelings throughout the record are warm, respectful (audience to musicians, musicians to each other), humorous, poignant; you can feel a connection between the players and the listeners. Presenting this duo in a private Missouri home allowed Williams and Bobby Watson (alto sax) to play at their most creative, unencumbered by the negative vibrations that can sometimes emerge in a club setting.

The duo begins with the Kurt Weill-Ogden Nash standard "Speak Low. Williams solos first, swinging with the depth of the jazz piano tradition. He spoke often of Phineas Newborn's influence, but it's evident that he has years of absorption of the language of hundreds of musicians; he quotes Dizzy Gillespie's "The Champ in his solo. Speaking of quotes, Watson quotes Charlie Parker's "Confirmation throughout the concert.

The second composition is Bobby Timmons' "Moanin', which reminds me that Williams and Watson both put in a lot of time together in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (late '70s-early '80s), both as players and composers. Williams' tune "Alter Ego is revealing; possibly best described as a cross between classical prelude and R&B ballad, it veers away from the gospel/blues-flavored pieces for which he's best known.

Vocalist Pamela Baskin-Watson joins the duo for a beautiful version of the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer standard "Skylark, and a brief talk by Williams is a nice touch to add to a great set of music. But the centerpiece of this highly recommended CD is "Spirit(ually) James, a nearly twelve-minute solo piano improvisation that brings in Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose, the traditional "Wade in the Water, Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz, and nods to Chopin's "Prelude in C minor and "America, plus Leonard Bernstein's theme from West Side Story.

Track Listing: Speak Low; Moanin

Personnel: James Williams: piano; Bobby Watson: alto saxophone; Pamela Baskin-Watson: vocals (4).

Title: Soulful Serendipity | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Self Produced

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