While the Asch recordings of Mary Lou Williams, recorded during the mid-'40s, are wrapped in a veil of pleasant 78-rpm surface noise, her Circle recordings of 1951 are presented here as direct transfers from early 33-and-one-third-rpm platters. This creates a different listening experience, for while sustained 78-rpm "scratchiness" acts as a constant texture through which the music may usually be heard, the inconsistent wandering hiss of the primitive acetate "long-playing" record creates at times a slightly distracting rhythmic pattern that is most noticeable on the slower numbers. This is emphasized by the otherwise "clean" sound of the recording. With Willie Guerra's bongos and Billy Taylor's upright bass backing the leader's excellent piano, the intrusive little hisses sound at times as though someone might be carelessly handling a shekere, or possibly teasing a pet snake. All phonographic pickiness aside, the music heard on the opening session is exquisite, particularly "Handy Eyes," a grooved-up rendition of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Two further Circle sides from 1952 feature the pianist supported by an unidentified bassist and drummer. After a marvelous passage through Ellington and Tizol's "Caravan," the men open "Yes, We Have No Bananas" by shouting the title in a bizarre and surprising manner. On July 11, 1952, Mary Lou Williams performed in front of a loudly appreciative audience with a band including her second ex-husband, trumpeter Harold "Shorty" Baker, trombonist Vic Dickenson, and tenor saxophonist Morris Lane. The ten-minute "Down Beat" is a warm, swinging jam during which the players are able to stretch out and cook nicely. A lovely take on "Out of Nowhere" leads into eight and a half smoky minutes of "C Jam Blues." The remaining 12 tracks were recorded during Mary Lou Williams' visit to England during the first half of 1953. Backed by guitar, bass, and either the regular drum kit or bongos, she delivers her customary blend of original compositions, jazz standards, classic ragtime, and contemporary tropes from innovators such as Tadd Dameron and Thelonious Monk.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf