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THIS SIDE UP
Reviewed by C. Michael Bailey for All About Jazz
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. East Coast -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 (sic) 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.
C. Michael Bailey, for allaboutjazz
Article from JazzUSA, by Sidney Bechet-Mandela:
"If there is any justice in the jazz world, Jessica Williams would be in the middle of a big-multi level major label deal. Instead young 20-somethings with less ideas than Williams has in two fingers are getting the major money and fiery veterans like Williams are reduced to fly-by-night outfits with limited distribution.
"There is quite a buzz coming out of St. Louis about her first record for the nationally distributed Missouri based label MaxJazz; until then, those east of the Mississippi may have a hard time finding this gem from a label based in Calgary, Alberta.
"The disc has written endorsements from Dave Brubeck and McCoy Tyner, which is quite appropriate, because as disparate as the styles of those two giants are, Williams manages to combine the bluesy sweetness from Brubecks style, with the fiery spirituality that Tyner exudes. The eight tracks are equally divided, as the album title suggests, with five of them Williams originals that are nothing short of brilliant." -Sidney Bechet-Mandela
Bob Powers, reviewer, Marietta, Ohio, USA-
Regular readers of this weekly missive may have noticed that praise has taken a huge lead over pummeling in recent months. It's not that your devoted columnist has decided to cut back on the nasty notices. Rather itís that the quality of CDs arriving on my front porch has shown marked improvement.
Proof of that statement can be found in the terrific new album from Jessica Williams called This Side Up (Maxjazz Records).
A veteran performer, Ms. Williams has performed her piano magic with such name talent as Stan Getz, Eddie Harris, Philly Joe Jones, Dexter Gordon, Airto and Flora Purim, and Tony Williams. She's definitely been there, done that.
It's high time that she steps into the spotlight, for her talents cry out for notice. Maxjazz deserves a tip of the fedora for giving her the opportunity to show her stuff. She's no overnight success, but this album should receive wide airing, because she possesses all the goodies.
Eight of the ten tracks are Williams' compositions and show off her abilities in creating melodies and offering dazzling solos.
This is one of those rare albums that will win a favored spot in any jazz fan's collection. Frequent plays only serve to demonstrate that Williams packs the good stuff. There's no showing off, just a confident attitude that must derive from her long experience in working with some of the biggies in the jazz realm.
Dave Brubeck once said Williams was "one of the greatest pianists I have ever heard." It's praise of a sort not handed out easily and dipping into the wonders of this album may indeed have you beginning to agree with the icon Brubeck's assessment.
Williams has been sitting at a piano bench for a long time. She was seven when she started to take lessons. She tells the story that she saw colors when she struck keys on the piano. She persuaded her parents to buy a piano and she began to take lessons at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory.
Her destiny began to be fulfilled when she first heard Brubeck's classic, Time Out - She said, "That was the end for me. I couldn't not explore the jazz form. I was getting in trouble for improvising on Rachmaninoff, and jazz seemed to offer me the freedom I craved in my interpretation of music."
She began playing jazz joints on the East Coast at age 17. In 1976 she moved to San Francisco and played with legends such as Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz. She eventually tired of the unhealthy lifestyle.
She won several grants and concentrated on composing at a studio along the Central California coast. During this period she recorded 25 albums, many on her own label, Jessica Williams Music.
This Side Up provides 10 excellent examples of Williams' distinctive style.
Backed by Ray Drummond on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, the album contains eight originals, plus M. Sealey's lovely Black Diamond and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's Theme for Eulipians.
After a long and tiring day's work, sit in front of your stereo equipment and listen to this wondrous album.
Jessica Williams will wipe away your fatigue and give you a jolt as only jazz can do.
I call this a "must" experience.