Mary Lou Williams spent a fair amount of time in Europe in the early '50s, prior to a temporary hiatus from jazz. This CD from Verve's Jazz in Paris series compiles two separate sessions from 1954; one features a trio, a quintet, and a pair of vocals by blues singer Beryl Bryden, and the other is purely a trio. All of the selections are fairly brief, with only one running over three-and-a-half minutes. The first 11 songs are a bit of a mixed bag. The strongest tracks feature Williams alone ("I Made You Love Paris" and her "Club Francais Blues") or with her trio ("Avalon," "Swingin' for the Guys," and "Memories of You"). Weaker are the four tracks with trumpeter Nelson Williams and tenor saxophonist Ray Lawrence, who aren't up to the playing level of horn players who typically worked with the pianist, though bassist Buddy Banks somewhat makes up for their shortcomings by contributing an enjoyable original ("Leg'n Lou") and a strong solo. Least important is the pair of vocals by Bryden, including a cover of bluesman Piano Red's "Rock Me" and Trixie Smith's "Freight Train Blues." The eight tracks from the other session are more consistent. With Banks again in tow and drummer Jean-Louis Viale, Williams sounds more relaxed and less encumbered during a set that is heavily weighted with standards like "There's a Small Hotel," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "Lover," and "Autumn in New York." An obscure, oddly constructed blues by the pianist, "Nicole," is also well worth hearing. This is hardly among the best recordings from Williams' long career, but with a paucity of CD reissues of her work,
it still merits purchasing.