This seventh volume in the Classics Mary Lou Williams chronology opens with a pair of gorgeous modern-sounding rhythm quartet tracks recorded in London on June 26, 1953. The next leg of her journey took her onto the northern European mainland. After a period spent gigging in France and Holland the pianist settled in Paris at the Hotel Cristal in St.-Germain-des-Prés, not far from the Deux Magots and the Café de Flore. On December 2, 1953 Mary Lou Williams recorded eight selections for the Vogue label with her good friend the perpetual expatriate tenor saxophonist Don Byas, bassist Buddy Banks, and drummer Gérard Pochonet. This exceptionally satisfying material has popped up here and there over the years but like much of Mary Lou Williams' oeuvre (and most jazz in general) it seems to have eluded the public. "Why," "Moonglow" and "Lullaby of the Leaves" belong with the best recordings ever made by Williams or Byas. "N.M.E." was named for a newly founded British periodical known as the New Music Express"O.W." refers to Orlando Wright (Muslim name: Musa Kaleem), a saxophonist with whom Williams had recorded in 1947. Eight tracks recorded by Mary Lou Williams & Her Rhythm for Blue Star on January 14, 1954 are exceptionally cool trio jazz, perfectly modern while grounded in the pianist's working history, a saga that began in Kansas City during the late '20s. This mixture of old and new is thrillingly present on four sides cut for the Club Français du Disque label near the beginning of 1954. With a front line of trumpeter Nelson "Cadillac" Williams and tenor man Ray Lawrence, Mary Lou Williams holds the ground with Buddy Banks and veteran drummer Kansas Fields, a seasoned individual who jammed with Mezz Mezzrow in Paris beginning in 1953. The surprise tidbit here is the lively "Mary Lou Blues," a close cover of something Erroll Garner had cooked up during his first recording session in 1944 and christened the "Boogie Woogie Boogie." Although Mary Lou Williams is said to have been battling depression and disillusionment during this time period, the music documented here is relaxing, uplifting and creatively inspired; suitable for lounging, working, freeway driving or making love after hours. This excellent disc also comes with an historical backstage photograph of Count Basie and Art Simmons relaxing in the gracious company of Mary Lou Williams.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf