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This Side Up

This side up

Review by Geraldine Wyckoff

That Jessica Williams is not exactly a household name has absolutely nothing to do with her abilities on piano.

In a word, she's a monster.

Her technical mastery is equaled by her honest-to goodness swing; her power matched by her dexterity.

As a child, Williams began studying for a career as a concert pianist but made the switch to jazz after hearing Dave Brubeck's Time Out. While her classical training becomes evident on tunes like "Black Diamonds," one of two non-originals on the disc, it works as an asset rather than imposing on the jazz vibe.

Williams is terrifically teamed on the album with the big-eared bassist Ray Drummond and the tasty drummer Victor Lewis. They are with her every step of the way, providing accompaniment and elaborating on her improvisations.

She and Drummond are a terrific tonal match with his round sound emphasizing her strong left hand and lying in contrast to the sparkling flurries of her right as heard on Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Theme for the Eulipians." On her tribute to tenorist Dexter Gordon with whom she played in the mid-1970s, Williams bebops with flair on "I Remember Dexter." She brings great elegance and a specific sense of drama to her oh so deliciously slow "Innocence," again, with Drummond's bass strolling on a parallel then intertwining path.

A whimsical smile often pops up within this trio's music, arising from a particularly clever turn of harmonic or rhythmic events or just the sheer fun of swinging.

Williams is also unafraid of providing a bit of humor as she does when she embellishes her Latin-tinged "Little Bird Song" with amusing chirps from the piano and by quoting standards. This Side Up is a wonderfully refreshing and honest album from a two-handed pianist with a style that is truly her own.

-Geraldine Wyckoff, Downbeat

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