Jessica Williams (solo piano) – With Love – Origin 82660, 57:17 ****:
Margaret Singleton writes in her book The Box In The Closet: My Journey To Claim Who I Am: “ I like to have quiet music in the background when I am writing. The keyboard skills of Jessica Williams playing solo piano help me to go beyond the mundane. Her tunes are creative, interpretive, mystical and sometimes haunting.” This is a perfect description of the results of Jessica Williams first album in two years With Love.
For those who may not have been following the medical travails of Jessica Williams over the last couple of years, she had major spinal surgery which if not successful, might have resulted in never walking again and certainly not playing the piano. Fortunately neither of those outcomes transpired and Williams returned to the piano determined to demonstrate that she had not lost any of her musical skills or passion for the material. This session of ballads from the Great American Songbook was recorded on her own Yamaha C-7 grand piano in her home studio over the course of a couple of months. (She’s a stickler for proper tuning of pianos on which she performs…Ed.)
Jessica Williams is an eclectic and intellectual pianist whose influences are as diverse as Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, both of whom are polar opposites. Nevertheless Williams has pulled from these two giants an approach which brings a freshness and curiosity to her work. She is also a strong believer in knowing the lyrics to the ballads she plays as it informs her interpretation of the compositions. So whether it is “For All We Know “ or”My Foolish Heart” or “I Fall In Love Too Easily” Williams looks at the structure of the melody, the story told by the lyrics, and uses them to build the tension and the atmosphere surrounding her version of the tune.
While one might have hoped for the occasional variation in tempi and more willingness to chase her ideas more profoundly with some extended improvisation, there is no question as to Williams’ ethereal inventiveness and use of musical colors and textures to express her emotions. As she indicates in the liner notes, the music in this particular session was dedicated to fans and friends who gave her encouragement and support during a difficult period. Perhaps next time out she might be more willing to step outside her comfort zone and up the ante a bit.
TrackList: For All We Know; My Foolish Heart; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Summertime; But Beautiful; When I Fall In Love; Paradise Of Love; It Might AsWell Be Spring; Somewhere