The Village Vanguard in New York may be known as the jazz club of choice for live recordings of top jazz artists throughout the second half of the twentieth century. MAXJAZZ itself has released two live CD’s from that venue. However, MAXJAZZ appears to have developed an interest in recording live piano trio performances from the other coast at Yoshi’s in Jack London Square in Oakland, California. First was Mulgrew Miller’s Live At Yoshi’s: Volume One,
and now comes Jessica Williams’ CD of the same name. Yoshi’s artistic director Peter Williams waxes enthusiastic about the opportunities fulfilled there, and the combined energies of Williams, MAXJAZZ and the musicians no doubt will lead to more live recordings from there.
Crackling applause greets Williams’ trio as they begin the performance, and the crowd’s enthusiasm continues throughout the CD. When the audience recognizes the melody to "I’m Confessin’ That I Love You," renewed applause breaks out, and then Williams takes them from the familiar to the unfamiliar, improvisation substituting for melody-making. At first, Williams plays the tune as a whimsical solo, replete with arpeggios, brief substitutions and warm rumbling chords. When she plays the song as a melody of alternating notes octaves apart, a hint occurs of Williams’ fondness for toying with octaves, a quote for "Salt Peanuts" sneaking in during the course of her improvisation. But eventually Williams settles into a stride rhythm marked by quarter-note-accenting left-hand time-markers, akin to Erroll Garners, and Drummond and Lewis join in. The clarity of Williams’ sound and the creativity of her thought emerge. And then it’s sustained throughout the rest of the performance.
Even though Williams certainly knows how to swing a prerequisite for her work with the likes of Stan Getz or Art Blakey she remains an unpredictable pianist, accessible and yet explorative. On "Alone Together," she deconstructs the tune, first in non-metrical plinking, the notes falling where they may (or seemingly so), and then in contrapuntal minimalism as she switches the melody between the left and right hands and uses single interwoven lines to stitch together a pattern through implication by outlining. No one in the audience knows where Williams is headed, but she resolves the imaginative solo with legato block chord improvisation when Drummond and Lewis join in. Though Monk remains a primary influence for Williams, she converts his "Mysterioso" into a lightly swinging blues, more Williams than Monk, as she briefly abandons the composition’s signature intervals of sixths and tremolos. When she does return to Monkisms, they’re the closely spaced chords of whole and half tones, and not as jagged or stabbing as Monk’s chorded attacks.
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.