Encounters - Jessica Williams, piano, with Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Mel Brown, drums, recorded LIVE in Portland, OR
1 Equinox (Coltrane)
2 Berkshire Blues (Weston)
3 lf I Were a Bell
4 The Shiekh (Williams)
5 Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams
6 Say it Over and Over Again
7 Wee See (Monk)
Total time- 68:05 | Photo of Jessica Williams by Elaine Arc
CADENCE MAGAZINE: ENCOUNTERS by Ellen Collison
Williams, p; Leroy Vinnegar, b; Mel Brown, d. Recorded live at Atwater's, Portland, OR, 9.1.94
Jessica Williams fans are in for a real treat in Encounters. And for those unfamiliar with her work, this CD is the perfect introduction to one of the leading lights of jazz piano today.
The recording is both very clear and (at the same time) highly atmospheric - take Equinox, for example, which is late-night music- in the way that Kind of Blue is late-night music. Williams' interpretation of 'Trane's masterpiece is hushed and autumnal (as suggested in the liner notes).
Of her incredible pulse, ability to play different rhythms in each hand, and at the same time lull the listener into a reverie with delicate trills, triplets and calculated swipes of the piano strings - well, probably the less said and the more heard, the better. (Vinnegar's solo is appropriately circuitous as well, and Brown does some amazing things with muted almost-paradiddles behind the pianist at crucial moments).
RandyWeston's "Berkshire Blues" is also nicely understated - a quiet, funky romp that begins in waltz time and contains more than a few suggestions of Hi-Fly,are among other pieces.
(Williams is a consummate and tasteful humorist, as are her companions on this recording - meaning that there's a lot of fun to be found here and confirming this reviewer's previous notions that Williams really knows how to please an appreciative crowd).
There's nothing on Encounters that doesn't groove, be it ballad or up-tempo, and -If I Were a Bell- is no exception.
Playful to the Nth denree, it's a wake-up call (if there ever was one) after the first two tracks. It is natural for the spirits of Wynton Kelly and of Miles to be evoked, and indeed they are - but this tune belongs to the present players, who are ready to show what they can do with it - and that needs no description at all except to know how hot and complex Williams' runs are, how many quotes show up (to good advantage), and to warn of the numerous and tricky false endings favored by these three - this reviewer stopped counting at six! (And none of them are wasted time, in more than one sense).
Williams' original "The Sheik" is worth a little discussion, both for its musical merits alone and in order to tempt you, readers, to hear it for yourselves.
A Near Eastern mood (Arabic, Turkish) is immediately set by the minor-key melody and the deviously complex rhythms Williams employs (although the great delight of it is that everything seems so simple - you're lulled into listening to a repeated 32 -beat melodic percussive pattern that glides back into a smooth 6-beat pattem again without noticing that much has changed in the process, and end up musically satisfied without knowing just how much Williams and company have put over on you!). The opening 4-note riff is set up by Vinnegar and then Williams takes up the standard. Almost immediately she begins to work a bit of impressive string-damping (while playing the same notes that are being damped) and string-scraping into the equation, and by then, well, you're hooked.
(Both Brown and Vinnegar contribute some exceptional work here Brown's inventive percussion works flawlessly with Williams' concept.)
Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams is a fine mediumup cut, with Williams laying into the keyboard with panache - Monk peeps through here and there (as well as Erroll Garner and a few others) as she gleefully juxtaposes light stride runs with stabbing staccato passages worthy of the Hatted One himself.
Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh's classic Say It Over and Over Again gets the Ritz treatment here and rightly so, as it's been shamefully neglected for no seeming reason. (Ever notice that musicians like Williams are the keepers of the flame in this regard?) It's played at a deliciously slow ballad tempo (Shirley Horn would heartily approve) and every second holds the listener's attention.
Of course, no Williams set would be complete without a Monk cut, and her interpretation of Wee See does full justice to the work and to Williams'own formidable talent. (It's really quite safe to say that her ideas always come together on this recording and on this cut - she may seem to be in multiple places in the space|time continuum, but she's always in the same place, as it were!).
Encounters made this listener a Williams convert and it is my great pleasure to state that Highly Recommended doesn't begin to do Williams the justice she deserves. -Ellen Collison, Cadence
Encounters, in Jazz Times:
Jessica Williams is one who has carved out a personal and recognizable style from this welter of influences... Williams emerges on this live set as a vivid reminder of the best of an era characterized by numerous hip piano trios. GREAT, July 30, 1999 -Jazz Times
Reviewer: A music fan; BUY EVERYTHING BY THIS ARTIST. I STILL HAVE NOT FOUND A MEDIOCRE RECORDING BY HER. Period. (from amazon.com)
The master of the walking bass . . .
meets a piano superstar, February 16, 1999 Reviewer: A music fan: A must for any jazz listener.
This CD puts together a trio of true jazz greats. Leroy Vinnegar, the talented master of the walking bass has played with some of the worlds greatest piano players (Phineas Newborn, Red Garland, Kenny Drew and Hampton Hawes, to name a few) and Jessica Williams is right up there with the rest of them.
Probably the most under-rated piano player of our time, she is superb on 'The Sheik' and 'Say it over and over again'. These two greats are teamed up with the kick *** drums of Mel Brown, local Portland, Oregon stand out. (from amazon.com)
This CD has it all, it swings, it's fun and every tune is a joy to hear. -L.G.