A brilliant pianist who can apparently play anything that comes into her mind, Jessica Williams has been one of the giants for nearly 20 years, ever since she reached a high level in the mid-'80s. She never lets her virtuosity rule the music nor are her solos overcrowded or overly dense; she lets the music breathe. Her wit and constant sense of swing make her performances accessible, yet other pianists must at times wonder how she thought of (much less played) a particular phrase. Williams has recorded quite a few albums by now, and none are unworthy. The Real Deal, her fifth outing for the Scottish Hep label, is a solo recital. Among the standards that she explores are "Misty" (during which she purposely hints at Erroll Garner), "Morning of the Carnival" (inspired by hearing Kenny Barron play the Brazilian classic), an unusual version of "Petite Fleur" that is played entirely on the extreme upper register of the piano, an inventive transformation of "If I Should Lose You," "My Romance," and "Don't Blame Me." Long one of the top interpreters of Thelonious Monk's music, Williams uses a Monk-ish pattern in her left-hand while her right flies freely in a solo version of "Friday the 13th." She also performs a thoughtful interpretation of "'Round Midnight," a rare rendition of Monk's obscure "Teo," a version of "Sweet and Lovely" that is similar to Monk's rendition, and two originals ("To Thelonious With Love" and "Out and Out Blues") that are dedicated to the late pianist/composer. There are no throwaway tracks on this set, nor are there any Jessica Williams CDs that should be overlooked. The Real Deal lives up to its name, and it serves as a perfect introduction to the pianist's playing.
AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow