Jessica Williams, solo piano – Songs of Earth [TrackList follows] – Origin Records 82619, 55.2 min. *****:
Jessica Williams is one of the top jazz pianists playing today, and if you’re a jazz piano fan and not familiar with her work, remedy that right away. She had classical training and was the house pianist at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner for many years. Jessica has been a three-time Grammy nominee. She is currently based in Seattle, and this new CD for the top Seattle jazz label Origin consists of seven selections she chose from live solo performances she gave the last few years at Seattle’s Triple Door.
Jessica’s liner notes are not what one might expect. She explains that this music was inspired by “our Mother, the Earth, and by ourselves, her Children.” Only the final selection, John Coltrane’s “To Be” is not an original by Jessica. The tracks range from five to ten minutes length and are all rather quiet, thoughtful, and often with a rather elegiac mood about them. All tonally diatonic, they generally don’t really swing with a typical jazz beat, but sound thoughtfully improvised and open to possibilities, unlike the stiffness of many classical piano pieces. I would put this album in the growing category of unique crossover material that neatly avoids the usual attributes of jazz, classical or New Age.
The opening track has a middle section that speeds up the tempo somewhat, but most are rather slow. The use of ostinatos a la Keith Jarrett is heard in a couple of the selections. The piece ”Montoya”—inspired by Spanish guitarist Carlos Montoya—would seem to suggest some rather wild Spanish idioms, but actually they are the most subtle melodic voice leadings without strong Spanish rhythms. “The Enchanted Loom” is not about weaving, but a metaphor by neuroscientist Charles Sherrington describing what happens in the cerebral cortex during arousal from sleep. Most of the pieces use the entire keyboard including the extremities, but the note complexity is lean. Jessica has strong opinions about the proper tuning of Steinways and has her own expert handle hers. The result is a more pleasing tone than I hear on many Steinway recordings, which is very well captured on this CD. I also appreciate the pause the audience observes before applauding and the clapping being kept to a reasonable level and length.
TrackList: Deayrhu, Poem, Montoya, Joe and Jane, Little Angel, The Enchanted Loom, To Be
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