Jessica Williams

Songs for a New Century

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AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg

She's a little bit late to release songs intended to kick off a new century, but Jessica Williams can be forgiven that as her music more than makes up for it. The album is actually titled as it is in celebration of Williams' emergence from a low time following the 9/11 attacks, and as such has a fairly upbeat tone throughout the proceedings. Aside from a stray Sonny Rollins composition (which Williams treats masterfully as a blues romp with some almost synth-like motifs thrown in), the compositions are all originals here, explorations of the interplay of sound and color (the color portion being a result of Williams' synesthesia). The album opens with "Empathy" in classic Williams form -- a heavy influence of Bill Evans present of course. Using her own modifications to a piano, she then pulls the sparse sound of a steel-stringed koto out as an accompaniment in "Toshiko," but done without any other players or overdubs -- she's actually extending the sound of the piano itself. "Fantasia" comes across as classical, with hints of what may be "Ave Maria" threaded into its passages, and "Song for a Baby" is a simple run that switches between more Bill Evans chordal jazz and fast little Chick Corea-esque arpeggios. She stretches out with suggestions of stride piano in "Lament," and moves to a tribute to Oscar Peterson that reverently includes much of his style. The arpeggios come hot and heavy in "Spoken Softly," a bit of club-ready piano, and the album finishes out with a casual, sing-songy "If Only." Williams is arguably one of the greatest pianists around today, with outstanding versatility and breadth of compositional skill on top. This album easily sits as exhibit A of that argument.

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