Jessica Williams

In the Pocket

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The idea for this album came from an appearance by this group at the 1992 Port Townsend Jazz Festival in the state of Washington. The result is a varied musical playbill of bop anthems, standards, a couple of Williams' originals and a contribution by Stevie Wonder. Williams is not wedded to any one particular model of piano playing, which is richly evident in the trio's handling of "A Gal in Calico." This tune, which Arthur Schwartz/Leo Robin wrote for the movie The Time, the Place and the Girl, is the subject of nine minutes of improvisational investigation running the performance gamut from march-like drumming by Dick Berk to pizzicato bass plucking by Jeff Johnson. Innovation and surprise seem to be Williams' theme throughout the album. None of the performances can be pigeonholed into a particular style or tempo, each being a mixture of many musical formats. Stevie Wonder's "I Really Love You" starts off as avant-garde, then segues into a dream-like melody. An 11-minute explication of "Cheek to Cheek" is filled with surprises, with the familiar melody, more often than not, barely recognizable. The playing of Jessica Williams and her cohorts is a classic example of the "stream of consciousness" approach to small group endeavor, where the imagination doesn't completely run wild, but comes close enough to make it interesting and sometimes scary. The disc includes a tribute, penned by Williams, to Bill Evans, which is a musical statement of the conversations she had with one of the pioneers of modern jazz piano. The works by Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock are handled with boppish aplomb. Given the clarity of the performance, and the imagination each brings to the album, it's clear these performers not only have worked together, but have a singleness of purpose toward this music. On this, her second album for Hep, Jessica Williams, long a denizen of the flourishing Pacific Northwest jazz scene, again shows she is a leading practitioner of creative jazz piano. Her ideas are unique, but at the same time can be followed, understood and enjoyed. The listener is not required to spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out what she is trying to do. It also means, however, that those lacking imagination may not take to her playing. An undervalued jazz performer, Williams deserves wider recognition.

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