LIVE AT YOSHI'S Vol 2 - Jessica Williams, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Victor Lewis, drums, on Maxjazz Records - ALBUM NOT AVAILABLE
1 Flamenco Sketches (Miles Davis)
2 Why do I love you (Hammerstein, Kern)
3 Spoken Softly (Jessica Williams)
4 Elbow Room (Jessica Williams)
5 Soldaji (Jessica Williams)
6 Paul's Pal (Sonny Rollins)
7 Dear Gaylord (Jessica Williams)
8 Lulu's Back in Town (Dubin, Warren)
9 Summertime (George, Ira Gershwin)
Total time- 62:05 - Jessica Williams, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Victor Lewis, drums; recorded July 9 and 10, 2003 at Yoshi's Nightspot in Oakland, CA in front of a live audience for Maxjazz Records
Album of the Year - Laurence Donohue-Greene - All About Jazz
We have what amounts to a master class in jazz history, courtesy of Jessica Williams, Live at Yoshi's Vol 2. While Volume one was marred by an icky bass sound, Volume two doesn't suffer from any technical deficiency at all. Again accompanied by Ray Drummond and Victor Lewis, Williams opens with a quietly monstrous version of Miles' Flamenco Sketches. And it only gets better. Over the course of the disc, she takes us through an almost stride introduction to Why Do I Love You and a very stride intro to Lulus Back in Town, which eventually develops into a medium tempo swinger. Elsewhere she clocks in with some impressive postbop, a few Monk-isms and everything else.
What's so awe-inspiring about Williams is that she commands such a stylistic breadth without it ever sounding like anyone but herself. And unlike the deep darkness of another pianist reviewed here, Williams' muse is mostly irreverant and upbeat, capable of mystery but apt to break it up with some earthy blues.
Live at Yoshi's 2 is truly a stunning album. In the process of listening to it, I went to Williams' web site and discovered that she has at least six other current CDs for sale, none of which are available anywhere but from her. That's pretty incredible, and the possibilities are astounding. Tom Chandler, Rasputin's, www.rasputinmusic.com/
Live at Yoshi's Volume Two; Review by Jim Santella
Jessica Williams never lets her audience down. This second volume of live performances at Yoshi's in Oakland, California provides yet another example of her creative muse in action. With her piano trio, the artist sculpts each selection as if it were made out of sand. Gently prodding, she finds a solution that's satisfying as well as intellectually fulfilling. Volume 102 would probably be just as creative, since she seems to never be at a loss for musical words and phrases.
Last year's Volume One earned a top rating for its superior qualities and was selected by this writer as the best jazz album of the year. Volume Two follows with the same spirit and the same highly recommended result.
'Summertime' and 'Flamenco Sketches' bookend the album with deeply felt ballad interpretations that reach into your soul. Williams expresses the feeling with perfection, and her musical partners enhance the mood with just the right inflection.
'Lulu's Back in Town' rollicks with a barrelhouse demeanor that relates the relevant role that the piano has played in history. Before vinyl, before tapes, before CDs, the piano brought joy to hard-working folks all over the world. It still does.
Sonny Rollins' 'Paul's Pal' gives the trio plenty of room to stroll. Here, Williams relaxes with the straightahead mood that has carried jazz from city streets, public parks, and bordellos to movie theaters, grand auditoriums, and devoted clubs such as Yoshi's. With walking bass, ride cymbal, and cohesive interplay, the trio finds fruition. Williams interprets each selection with a crystal-clear understanding of what moves us.
Jim Santella has been contributing CD reviews, concert reviews and DVD reviews to AAJ since 1997. His work has also appeared in Southland Blues, The L.A. Jazz Scene, and Cadence Magazine.
Jessica Williams, Live at Yoshi's Volume 2, Review by C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
The first volume of Jessica Williams trio recordings live at Yoshi's extended the reputation she had already established on MaxJazz with This Side Up and All Alone. Williams plays the piano with a complete reverence and total regard for those piano forces that came before and after. Her piano style, more than any other pianist currently playing, has assimilated all styles and she can fluidly move from one style to the next, often within the same piece.
Where her compatriot Miller storms out of the shoot with an aggressive 'Joshua', Miss Williams begins quietly with Miles' 'Flamenco Sketches', surreally introduced with Williams strumming the piano strings and bassist Ray Drummond setting up the signposts for Victor Lewis to brush in. This is apoplectically sumptuous ballad playing. Sharply juxtaposed to the easy flow of 'Sketches' is Williams' schizophrenic canon introducing the Hammerstein- Kern piece 'Why Do I Love You'. The construction is sheer genius, never even approaching consonance until the whole band joins her in a swinging take on the tune. Williams out- Monks Monk with this introduction in the category of hard corners in music. Following the head, things drop low with Drummond picking up the stroll and Lewis lays down the groove for Williams to solo over. She returns the favor when it is time for Drummond to step up for several choruses. She closes the piece with style, quietly descending back into the schizoid intro with a trill.
The next pieces are three of her four original compositions on the disc. 'Spoken Softly' is a ballad with a deceptively turbulent minor center. 'Elbow Room' is exactly what Williams creates with a complex Monkian blues waltz that allows the pianist to play in the piano's lower register, where she solos, quoting 'Blue Monk' and 'A Rhapsody in Blue.' As the swing straightens out, the pianist's soloing becomes more facile and her left hand more propulsive. Drummond solos over Williams chording seamlessly. Lewis, ever the perfect time keeper, quietly plies his trade, keeping the other two on course. 'Soldaji' is a descending chordal pattern over Drummond's bass, almost a nocturne in the beginning with a ripple of anxiousness in the high keys. Lewis provides a soft Caribbean beat, echoing Williams' left hand. A full 2:30 into the piece, all three principles come together and over the remaining choruses slowly build the unrequited tension anticipation, a set of variations on a theme, with each member improvising.
Williams approaches Sonny Rollins' 'Paul's Pal' from the point of view of the saxophone, approximated on the piano. Her solos pay homage to the tenorist, honoring his lyricism and grace.'Lulu's Back in Town' finds the pianist in a strident mood, playing the dozens with Willie 'The Lion' Smith. This is perfect throwback to throw into the mix this musical chemist is cooking up - pure fun.
A lengthy introspective 'Summertime' closes the recital. Williams navigates the standard carefully, with a languid and tender caress. On this always humid piece, slow and narcotic, the pianist draws from the creation of Gershwin an entire season of ideas, concepts, motives, and notes. With ebb and flow the piece builds velocity slowly and with purpose, never getting raucous or loud. Just keeping the tension on and continuing to prove an observation that I made three years ago: 'Williams has the facility to play in any damn style she likes, thank you! In the end Jessica Williams plays like Jessica Williams.' - C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
Album Description from Amazon:
Recorded July 9, 10, 2003, at Yoshi's at Jack London Square - one of the world's finest jazz clubs - Live At Yoshi's (Volume Two) offers an exquisite set of music. Williams' long-running trio of Ray Drummond on bass and Victor Lewis on drums brings the music to a high level.
Live at Yoshi's Volume Two, Reviewed By Michael McCaw, All About Jazz:
From sweeping dramatic crescendos to Monkish innuendo and straight-up ballad mastery, pianist Jessica Williams always seems to be on top of her game. And when you hear her play so creatively, you have to wonder why she is not as heralded as many other pianists in the straightahead jazz idiom. It's not like she has not recorded extensively for over the last thirty years for labels ranging from Jazz Focus to Landmark, Candid, and Concord. Nevertheless, she has probably never received as much critical and audience attention as she has since forming her current partnership with the MaxJazz label.
And with releases such as this, her audience can only grow.
Following a string of critically acclaimed albums comes the sequel to last year's Live At Yoshi's Volume One. Both releases are culled from two nights of recording back in July of 2003 and continue her consistent streak of straight-up invigorating jazz. This is evident from the onset of the record with Flamenco Sketches.
After a dramatic opening, she settles in for a performance that makes wonderful use of space, her economical use of notes blossoming in and around a melody that serves the song completely and establishes this performance as one of the more successful covers of the tune.
Some may argue that Williams may not be a trendsetter. However, something must be said for her originality and ability to create such remarkable music. She has a knack for taking endlessly worked over standards and reviving them with a fresh perspective and a creative mindset. She crafts a multilayered opening for Why Do I Love You where each hand carries a different time and space, and her soft and plush rendition of Summertime that closes this CD is also quite appealing.
In fact, many of these performances are vehicles of constant invention, rather than typical head-solo-head sequences. They breathe so that when you come to the close of a song, such as the eight-minute rendition of Summertime, you really don't realize where a solo began or ended, you just remember the ebb and flow of creation.
Williams is joined by longstanding trio mates Ray Drummond and Victor Lewis, both of whom suffer from their own bit of undeserved obscurity. Drummond in particular is a monster bass player who articulates well and still maintains a deep resonating tone like that of Ray Brown. His omnipresent voice incorporates harmonics, chords, and a seemingly endless supply of melodic invention. Drummond's abilities are on full display throughout, and they're in ample evidence on Williams' own Elbow Room, which is dedicated to John Coltrane but really serves as a prime example of her deft touch at interpreting and utilizing Thelonious Monk's vocabulary.
While nothing here is groundbreaking and the performance may even be considered a normal straight- ahead jazz date, when you hear musicians interpret songs with such heartfelt and remarkable invention, what does it matter? - Aug 26th, 2005, Michael McCaw, All About Jazz
Subject: WRRG-FM (Chicago, IL jazz playlist w/o 10/2/05, Date: Mon, 03 Oct 2005:
1 JESSICA WILLIAMS Live At Yoshi's, Vol. 2
2 PAULA LAMMERS A Blanket Of Blue
3 CEDAR WALTON Underground Memoirs
4 FREDDY COLE This Love Of Mine
5 BILL MAYS TRIO Live At Jazz Standard
6 EARMA THOMPSON Just In Time
7 YVES FRANCOIS Blues For Hawk
8 DICK HYMAN/RANDY SANDKE Now And Again
9 JEREMY PELT Identity
10 KENNY CARR Friday At Five
Williams opens the CD with an entrancing intro on Flamenco Sketches by Miles Davis. She picks up the pace on Why Do I Love You by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern. The trio gently sways on Spoken Softly the first original offering by Williams that she dedicates to her friend and teacher, the late Tony Williams. The upbeat and swinging original, Elbow Room, follows and displays the cohesiveness of the trio. She dedicates this composition to John Coltrane, who she regards as her musical light. The pace slows again for Soldaji, a thoughtfully expressive original composition that she dedicates to her dear, recently departed Watson, who was an 'Ancient Wise One in a Scottish Terrier's body'. The trio swings with great energy on the standard Paul's Pal by Sonny Rollins. Williams then offers another slow, intimate opening solo, this time to begin her final original composition Dear Gaylord, which she dedicates to musician and collaborator Gaylord Birch. The trio picks it up with a playful rendition of Lulu's Back In Town, by Al Dubin and Harry Warren. Williams closes the set with a beautiful version of the classic Summertime.
I just received Jessica Williams at Yoshi's, Volume One. Wow wow wow!!! This is a GREAT album. Her previous two on MaxJazz were great, but this new one should go on the list of ALL-TIME GREAT PIANO ALBUMS IN THE HISTORY OF JAZZ. No exaggeration. This is landmark album. We'll start playing it next week. I can't wait for Volume Two! -Mark Shapiro, KWRF Santa Monica, CA
If Keith Jarrett is jazz's great epic poet, Jessica Williams may be the great living lyric poet of the jazz keyboard. She is utterly magnificent. Her trio-mates - bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis - are audibly delighted to be playing her music. -Jeff Simon, Buffalo.com | read entire review
When the Jessica Williams Trio plays Yoshi's this weekend, it will look like there're just three musicians on-stage, but close your eyes and you may hear a modern jazz pantheon. Among the most lyrical and expressive pianists in jazz, Williams has come together in recent years with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis to create a superlative trio that draws inspiration from the music's giants. -Andrew Gilbert, Contra Costa Times | read entire review
To my mind Live at Yoshi's Volume One is Jessica Williams finest effort to date. She is simply a pianistic force of nature that will not be denied. As with her previous, releases, This Jessica Williams offering will have a place on my best-of-the-year list. -C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz | read entire review
Dear Jessica, I got your new CD this week and I'm writing a review for a Swiss jazz journal: wonderful! The best trio recording of 2004 - I get trio's CDs from around the world, including Japan. Your own creativity is superb and the rhythmic very good and tasteful too. Best regards, Michel Bader
Here is a player every jazz musician respects. Her sense of melody, combined with an ingrained adventurous streak within the structure of the songs, makes for one of the most listenable and complete players. Williams' touch on the keyboard makes ballads like 'Say it Over and Over Again' shine with a soft luster. The disc also shows Williams' diversity as both a player and composer. Her 'Tutu's Promise' is a rhythmic creeper, sparse and intense. Backed by bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis, Williams is at her best and no doubt the crowd at the Bay Area club were mesmerized by the concert. She draws out the depths of the piano, courting the lower end on Billy Cobham's sensual 'Heather,' and taking in the full range on 'Alone Together.' A fine live disc not marred by crowd noises and bad sound. -Jazz Society of Oregon
With Live At Yoshi's: Volume One, Jessica Williams has documented her ability to entrance an audience in a nightclub setting, and she has added one more setting to her growing string of MAXJAZZ releases that capture her emphasis on the richness of her sound and the her no-nonsense ability to craft new forms from the raw material of the songs that she plays with her trio. -Don Williamson | read entire review
All Critic's Reviews: In the review archives (too numerous to reproduce here)
Artist's Review of this CD:
Date: 12 Aug 2005. Re: Live at Yoshi's Volume Two - Review: I have become a huge fan of Jessica Williams, and could not wait for volume 2 of the Yoshi's recordings to be issued. I rushed to buy this CD as soon as it was available. This is an outstanding recording. There are countless highlights, but my personal favorite is her version of Flamenco Sketches. I simply cannot stop playing this. Her chords, lyricism, and harmonic invention simply are unmatched. -John Roos
Date: 02 Aug 2005. Dear Jessica: Well, I finally got my hands on a copy of Yoshi's II. Good heavens, does it get any better than this? Halfway through Flamenco Sketches my jaw was on the floor and stayed there right through the final notes of Summertime. This is a truly astonishing and moving outing. Keith Jarrett writes of having being touched by fire in the making of his Vienna Concert recording. Well, that sacred fire is alive and well, right here on this recording. Accolades aside... for me, the best thing about this is that the love in your work truly comes through. It is so sincere. I hear you truly walking your talk with your music. All I can say is thank you, God bless and keep on playing. The world needs art of this strength and quality. Bravo bravo bravo!! - Thomas McGraw, Dartmouth College, jazz lover
Date: Sun, 02 Oct 2005 From: David S__ IN BARCELONA
Hello Jessica, just a short one to inform you that I was last Thursday in Barcelona for a business meeting and I happened to discover a nice records shop dedicated exclusively to jazz. It is located in a basement in the golden avenue of Paseo de Gracia. They displayed your Live at Yoshi's Vol 2 and I got in to buy it. Guess what they told me? That you are consistently their best seller and that you have a bunch of faithful followers in town! Thought you would like to know it. The name of the shop is JazzMessengers and they have their own website at jazzmessengers.com - Best wishes! David ___
Jessica's liner notes:
Sometimes we play this Music, other times this Music plays us. It's those 'other times' that we live for...
There's a 'well of souls' that speak through us at such special times. And we join the chorus in that each of us has an accent and a special message to deliver. We speak American Improvised Jazz Music in this band; we all have similar accents; we all have stories to tell... our stories, and the stories of the 'well of souls' that we carry inside of us, everywhere, every minute of every day.
I feel like I stand in the shadow of giants when I play this Music. It humbles me and keeps me real. It never lies to me, and demands absolute truthfulness on my part. When I play with Ray and Victor, it feels like I'm having a passionate discussion with other souls who understand my heart.
They are mirrors to me, and I to them, without agenda, without compromise. We are cleansed and we are always made better and more complete by our musical conversations.
We speak jazz in this band. It's an honor and a privilege to play this Music. -Jessica Williams
KATSUHIKO NAITO, mastering engineer
Recorded on July 9, 10, 2003 at Yoshi's at Jack London Square, Oakland, CA
Jimmy and Deana Katz, photography
All arrangements by Jessica Williams / Jessica Williams compositions; JJW Music - ASCAP