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ALL ABOUT JAZZ, 2003, Terrell Holmes
Pianist extraordinaire Jessica Williams has followed up her excellent trio recording This Side Up with All Alone, a collection of standards and originals for solo piano that she plays with great imagination and dexterity.
And when Williams plays, she doesn't play around, taking on all-time champion composers like Ellington, Mingus, and Irving Berlin. Williams takes "As Time Goes By" through several styles and tempos before finally returning it to its table at Rick's.
Williams explores the higher register of the keys on "In A Sentimental Mood", quoting Duke's introduction not in imitation but as an homage to the source. She gives another small nod at the end of the title track, when she. playfully forges Monk's signature.
Williams is contemplative on "Warm Valley" as she softly explores its possibilities, ending the journey with a lovely, spiraling cascade of notes.
The standouts among the originals are "The Sheikh", where she strums the piano strings and uses the outside for percussion while playing conventionally.
"Bill's Beauty" is a spare yet haunting ballad that should be a standard in no time.
Williams plays with a rare fluidity and deftness. She has a clear tone, a lively style, and her left hand is aggressive without being reckless, and she's adventurous without being a show-off.
She can play with whispering tenderness or startling force. There is nothing Jessica Williams can't do on a piano, and she is one of jazz's most unique, talented (dare I say underrated?) and important voices.
-ALL ABOUT JAZZ, Terrell Holmes
THE BUFFALO NEWS, April 4, 2003
She's the reigning poet of jazz piano, now that Mary Lou Williams is long gone. She is not often one to record a disc entirely solo. But the results here are sublime. She says on the disc, "Letting the music play itself is the goal. I'm only as much of a pianist as I need to be to let it play unimpeded ... I'm a musician. I'm not sure I'm a pianist at all... I've always wanted to be a musician. Sometimes, all alone, I am." All of which you'll understand perfectly listening to the disc.
-Jeff Simon, THE BUFFALO NEWS
JAZZTIMES, Harvey Siders, 2003
Now it's a female's turn to go the solo route, and who better than Jessica Williams, who on All Alone (MaxJazz) continues to amaze with her endless versatility.
This collection of standards and originals seems to belie her own comment: "I've always wanted to be a musician. Sometimes, all alone, I am." After listening to this CD, one must paraphrase Descartes: "I swing, therefore I am."
"As Time Goes By" and "In a Sentimental Mood" contain nods in the direction of Erroll Garner that evolve so naturally after playing her clean single lines over a gentle jazz march. "Warm Valley" is another Ellington gem that should be taken out and aired more often. The same could be said of Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful": too many pianists consider it a singer's turf. Regarding another Berlin chestnut, "All Alone," Williams decided to have some fun. She takes it as a straight waltz but refuses to stoop to "oom-pah-pah," so there is plenty of split stride. By the fourth chorus, she shows her impatience with the original chords and caps it off with a bit of Monkish mischief. She dabbles in the pentatonic scale in "Toshiko," an original that shows her reverence for her Japanese colleague, Toshiko Akiyoshi.
It's a first-rate album that underscores Jessica's strengths: technique, harmonic taste and her love for swinging.
-JAZZTIMES, Harvey Siders
TORONTO STAR, May 29, 2003, Geoff Chapman
Pianist Williams is a superb player whose spiritual senses shine through on these dozen standards. She can swing, she can quote quickly from quirky Thelonous Monk, she can be witty, even though here she prefers the more contemplative standards.
It all adds up to the finest solo piano disc I've heard this year, gripping from the first notes of "As Time Goes By" to the last of "Too Young To Go Steady."
Her reflective state is established early with two Ellington pieces but suddenly there's four of her originals"Toshikot the strange and funky "The Sheikh.'
"Bill's Beauty" and "The Quilt:' appropriately a patchwork of tinkling colours. Amid the tranquility is the Mingus oddity "Orange Was The Colour Of Her Dress Then Blue Silk."
Her melodic risk-taking is a pleasure.
-Geoff Chapman, TORONTO STAR