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Live At Yoshis: Volume Two by Jessica Williams

Words like "tasty," "meditative," "witty" and "clever"-and, most appropriate, "swinging"-come to mind when you hear pianist Jessica Williams. Her trio’s subtly swinging style brings to mind Bill Evans’ trios from the 60s. But, surprisingly, in her whimsical atonality, there is a definite touch of Thelonious Monk in her playing.

Williams' exceptional CD, "Live At Yoshi’s-Volume Two," has been recently released and should be heard. It contains a mixture of originals and standards, making for a delightful musical experience. Veterans Ray Drummond on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, make up her cohesive trio, each anticipating and responding to the others' moves.

With the first number, Miles Davis' "Flamenco Sketches," she grabs you with the stately grace of her interpretation. She starts slowly, gradually building to a climax before closing in a whisper.

Her debt to Monk is displayed on "Why Do I love You." After an extended introduction, she changes direction and breaks out into a jaunty romp, throwing out Monkish off-key notes. It’s surprising that someone with Williams’ talent isn’t better known. She started studying classical music in her native Baltimore. Her instructor played her some Brubeck one day, and she immediately became enamored with jazz.

In the 60s, she left the conservatory and was introduced to the jazz scene by drummer Philly Joe Jones. She went on to play with the likes of Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon and the late Tony Williams, who became a big influence for her.

She has lived in San Francisco since 1976, but in the 90s took a hiatus from playing, re-locating on California’s Central Coast. Having been rejuvenated, she is back on the jazz circuit.

Two of her originals on the CD are dedicated to jazz giants. The meditative "Spoken Softly" honors drummer Williams, while "Elbow Room" celebrates John Coltrane. In the latter her playing evokes the layered background pianist McCoy Tyner gave Coltrane’s solos in their famous quartet.

In Sonny Rollin’s "Paul’s Pal," her left hand sets the rhythm for the piece in the way Freddy Green’s guitar was the anchor for the Count Basie band.

This is a live session. Audience-members are obviously having fun, and Williams gives them a special treat near the set's end, performing a blast from the past-"Lulu’s Back in Town." In a final nod to Monk, her dissonant stride piano gives the ancient classic a buoyant modern art flourish.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jessica Williams
  • CD Title: Live At Yoshis: Volume Two
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: MAXJAZZ
  • Rating: Four Stars
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