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Jessica Williams: This Side Up

C. Michael Bailey By

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Full-bodied piano from the West Coast

 

In spite of many fine recordings, apparently Jessica Williams' pianistic light remains beneath the basket. No more— This Side Up, Ms. William's debut for Max Jazz should shine a light on her exquisite talent for all of the listening public to see (hear). As the third release in Max Jazz's popular piano series, This Side Up finds Ms. Williams paying tribute in the intimate piano trio setting. Baltimore-born and San Francisco tempered, Williams was well schooled in the conservatory and the bandstand (with Philly Joe Jones) in the 1970s. In 1977, Williams headed for San Francisco and became the house pianist at the Keystone Korner. She recorded widely for her own Quanta label, as well as for Jazz Focus. All of her recordings have been well received and betray a fresh virtuosity that is at once erudite and familiar.

This Side Up is mostly a collection of originals that are perfectly conceived and expressed. Williams and veterans Ray Drummond and Victor Lewis run a seamless shop, deftly negotiating Williams' carefully constructed vision. I suspect that it would do Ms. Williams a disservice to address her influences. Bios record that she has a hint of Monk in her playing. I believe (as evidenced by this new recording) that Ms. Williams has the facility to play in any damn style she likes, thank you! In the end Jessica Williams plays like Jessica Williams. She is the complete package.

So how can I describe her playing. It is whole orchestral. Like Gene Harris, she is able to produce a layered wall of sound that is at once dense and light as a feather. A bit on the music... "The Judge" is dedicated to bassist Milt Hinton. It is a thoughtful and deliberate ballad that gently swings with a rock hard momentum. Drummond, for his part, tips his hat to Hinton while Williams lovingly teases his memory. "Miles to Go" points toward the prince of darkness, Miles Davis. It is a sophisticated blues that approximates "Walkin'" filtered through "All Blues." Victor Lewis provides the Philly Joe rim shots. "I Remember Dexter" honors her former boss LTD. Here she is in a Bobby Timmons mode with about twice as much Gospel as regular. Ms. Williams modulates through time signatures with almost no notice.

Several genres are represented on This Side Up. "Blue Tuesday" is a waltz and " Theme For The Eulipians" a march. "Innocence" is an ethereal ballad. Ms Williams plays all with equal interest and intensity. This Side Up will most likely hold up as the best trio outing I have heard this year and will make my end-of-the-year lists.


Track Listing: The Judge; Blue Tuesday; Black Diamonds; Little Bird Song; Serenata; Miles To Go; Theme for the Eulipians; I Remember Dexter; Innocence; Off Blue.

Personnel: Jessica Williams- piano; Ray Drummond- bass; Victor Lewis- drums.

Title: This Side Up | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: MAXJAZZ

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