Ben Williams' sophomore full-length album, 2015's Coming of Age, finds the adept bassist/composer delivering another sophisticated mix of post-bop, fusion, and contemporary R&B-infused jazz. The album follows up Williams' equally striking 2011 debut, State of Art, and showcases the winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition's further development as a bandleader, composer, and improviser. Once again joining Williams is his longtime backing ensemble Sound Effect, featuring tenor and soprano saxophonist Marcus Strickland, guitarist Matthew Stevens, pianist and Fender Rhodes keyboardist Christian Sands, synth and Fender Rhodes keyboardist Masayuki "Big Yuki" Hirano, and drummer John Davis. The album also showcases several guest artists including singer Goapele, who adds her soulfully resonant voice to the midtempo, Afro-pop-infused "Voice of Freedom (For Mandela)." Also spotlighted here is acclaimed New Orleans-born trumpeter Christian Scott, whose muted trumpet lead on Williams' reworked cover of vocalist Lianne La Havas' sultry, introspective ballad "Lost & Found" brings to mind the melancholic sound of Miles Davis. A stylistically wide-ranging musician with roots in gospel, R&B, and pop as well as jazz, Williams has a gift for pulling his many influences together across an album. This is evident throughout Coming of Age, with cuts like the Latin-infused "Forecast" and "Half-Steppin'" bringing to mind bassist Jaco Pastorius and saxophonist Wayne Shorter's work with the '70s fusion outfit Weather Report. Similarly, Williams reinvents Nirvana's classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" into a robust, virtuosic solo bass performance and even takes to the mike, rapping over a latter-album reprise of his militaristic ballad "Toy Soldiers." Ultimately, with Coming of Age, Williams continues to reveal his growth as one of the most open-minded and gifted millennial jazz artists.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar