Jessica Williams

In the Key of Monk

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Jessica Williams' career took off during the 1990s with a series of memorable recordings for the Canadian label Jazz Focus, and this solo piano tribute to Thelonious Monk is one of her best live performances. She establishes her own voice right away with a playful approach to "Bemsha Swing," playing part of the introduction while muting the piano's strings with one hand, making use of the full range of the keyboard in the body of the piece. She throws Monk-like twists into her interpretation of one of his favorite standards, "Just a Gigolo." Not satisfied with just covering Monk's best-known works and songs by others that he enjoyed playing, she delves into the pianist's less-frequently played compositions, such as the discordant "San Francisco Holiday" and his loping "Blues at the Five Spot," while also dedicating pieces of her own to Monk (the reflective ballad "I Remember Monk") and his longest-serving sideman, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse (the alternately tricky and jaunty "The House That Rouse Built"). Highly recommended.

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