BLUE FIRE - Jessica Williams, composer, piano; Mel Brown, drums; Dave Captein, bass; Scott Hall, tenor saxophone on track one and track eight
1 Blue Fire (J. Williams)
2 The Vision (J. Williams)
3 Soul Sister (Yusef Lateef)
4 Somebody's Waltz (J. Williams)
5 Blues 2k (J. Williams)
6 Kenny Kirkland (J. Williams)
7 Elbow Room (J. Williams)
8 Everything happens to me
Total time - 72:05
Review by Jerry D'Souza, All About Jazz
Jessica Williams is a no-nonsense person. You can hear this in conversation with her, you can feel this from her liner notes and you can sense it from her music. The attitude stems not only from confidence but also with being comfortable with her craft, something that leaps out each time you listen to her music.
In writing the notes to this record, Williams makes several pertinent points. One is that the tradition in her music will not go away while it grows and changes all the time. Who could argue when the results are as electrifying as they are here?
Williams builds several sonic layers enveloping each in reverberating passion. She has able mates in Dave Captein and Mel Brown who are pivotal in adding to the dialogue. Together they move like one well-oiled machine.
The title tune unfurls slow and sensual with Scott Hall getting his tenor into the thick of the melody before Williams traces the evolution with lines that dance lithely through a becoming tempo shift. Hall is also featured on Everything Happens To Me which flows like a gentle stream. It is at once peaceful and meditative.
Blues 2K comes out swinging. Williams shapes the progression aggressively on a hot bed of melody all the while propelled by Brown and Captein taking this one right into the metier of excitement. The tempo slows down for Kenny Kirkland. The tribute to the late pianist is a lyrical and heartfelt testimony. At the end of it all, there is one definite manifestation: this album says a lot and says it eloquently. -Jerry D'Souza, All About Jazz
Review by Ben Ohmart, MUSICDISH.COM
All but 2 of these 8 mega-jazz tracks are penned by pianist Jessica Williams, she of the light touch and boun cing melody, a virtuoso who places a lot of sensitivity and boldness where it does the most good. Consider the time of 'Somebody's Waltz'. Count carefully because it's not a 4|4, though you might trip over the furniture trying to prove the point.
'Blues 2K' is not frightening, it is measured in long piano rolls, a constantly swinging Mel Brown drum beat, and a busy improv nature about it. Should be. It's the longest track going, at 11.42 minutes, almost tiring you out.
Thank God for the acoustic bass break.
'Every note here is not the empirical 'right' one, not every statement profound, not every tempo adhered to strictly. Then again, every human face is asymmetrical. Beauty is not perfection. It IS truth, though.' So explains Jessica re: her music. 'This is definitely NOT museum jazz. Lincoln Center PBS specials may be mildly entertaining, but they do not represent the true spirit of jazz, which is growth and change and improvisation.'
She's right there. And she's also right that her kinda jazz does not 'take you back' anywhere. If anything, it brings you forward into thoughtfulness.
Nothing warms up the ol' brain more than the soft-hearted 'Kenny Kirkland', as close to a ballad as Jessica is likely to get. Remember, here's a woman who likes to keep moving; on the keyboard anyway. Give her a little 'Elbow Room' and you'll get back a 11.5 minute track that promises to deliver you there faster, stronger, with more vitamin content. E and B12 spring readily to mind.
That's why the last track, the Carmichael| Mercer standard 'Everything Happens To Me', is the marvel to go out on. Scott Hall comes back, and the bass takes on a different, smoother volume. Beauty to finish up with. After 73 minutes, you're not quite ready to go either. -Ben Ohmart (Assistant Editor) MUSICDISH.COM
Liner notes by Jessica Williams
I'm reasonably sure that I'm not the only musician currently asking myself "is my music reflecting the changes of the world around me? Is it still pertinent?
Does it speak to the 'now' of my experience rather than the 'then'?
Does the word 'jazz' mean anything? Did it ever?
And I'm pretty sure that a very few musicians are going to experience profound changes in their playing and composing, and in the direction that their music is taking. I certainly hope to be one of the lucky few, as I've felt for some time that our music needs to reflect our environs with greater accuracy. Passion and emotional expressivity are the foundations of any great or lasting artistic statement, and this axiomatic truth will not change just because we now have "global connectivity" and "digital hyperspace access"...but there IS a human revolution going on here, perhaps as great or greater in scope than the industrial revolution. Lives are changed forever at such times. Many folks are left behind; many attach themselves to the "new" without examining or preserving the value of the "old".
It's easy to jump on a bandwagon when there are so many jumpable ones around, and it's similarly easy to forget that our basic humanity will NOT be compromised by our e-mail program or our 56K modem.
Hopefully, the 20th century music we've known as jazz will become a viable and vital musical language for the 21st century. Whether or not this happens will depend on the musician's ability to respond organically to the world and its realities.
If jazz were to continue to be an elitist, male-only, reactionary social club with the social mores and philosophy of a right-wing extremist organization, I can pretty much assure you that it's seen its day.
Whole countries are finding out that isolationism and the curtailing of civil freedoms is really bad for business.
And our music needs to speak in broader terms, to larger numbers of people, in a language that they can understand. Frankly, business hasn't been all that good lately.
And I am incensed that some contemporary jazz musicians continually denigrate the intelligence of "the masses". Those masses include me, and I totally and fully agree with the consensus that most "jazz" being played today is ego-driven, megalomaniacal drivel. I'd much rather hear a soul or rock band do the "real thing" than be forced to experience the intellectual posturing of "real jazz musicians taking themselves really seriously and playing music that we really can't understand because they're so much hipper than we are."
So it's obvious that I'm rather passionate about this music and what it means in the century ahead.
BLUE FIRE is a convergence of the old and the new. The tradition in my music will not go away, as it is a part of my life. And the music will not stay in one place because it has a tendency to grow and change all the time. So here it is: the blues, the fire, the passion, the seeking...the echoes of all past experience with the edge of newness and invention. I've assembled my favorite rhythm section (Mel Brown on drums and Dave Captein on bass) and proceeded to do what we've always done best: play jazz.
Some subjective observations about this music:
I hear myself here playing "in the stream". There are plenty of places where I fall back into habit, and a few times where my ideas supersede my technique, but I'm mostly in the river that is the music.
I have been experimenting with tonal "cascades" underpinned by one or two sustained notes (using the middle peddle). They move rather quickly (or should) and this is the first time I've heard them in context with bass and drums. They remind me of circulatory-breathing on a saxophone, and occur most notably on track 2 and 8. I like the sound of these cascades and, since they constitute an approach rather than a technical "lick", they always come out differently. I also find myself enjoying the attitude of this album. It seems to possess a "reaching" quality that makes for many moments of drama. There's an eight-bar passage in "THE VISION" that goes totally strange, and then rights itself magically in midair.
It's also becoming clear to me that, when my right-brain drives my right hand, the music flows like water. It took years for me to even realize what my left hand was doing; it was doing precisely what it wanted to do, and it made perfect sense! Of course, my left hand is directly linked to my right hemisphere, the "intuitive" hemisphere. Getting the right hand (the one that sings the song) to emanate from my right-brain was not something I could practice. It happens when the instrument becomes an extension of the self, and technique becomes an autonomic function (like breathing). It is happening with increasing frequency and success, and it is why I return to this CD again and again.
I'm not thinking in most of this music. I'm not judging or editing or trying to impress or over-planning the design of my solos; their inherent architectural integrity (and occasional lack of it) is an organic byproduct of being immersed in the stream, the river of the moment. This is not so much an achievement as an event, a result.
The triad that arises as Mel and Dave mirror my direction (as I mirror theirs) is a joy to my ears. There's a great deal of history in our playing (Dave's walking bass-lines and Mel's classic streamlined drumming have analogues spanning many decades of jazz) but this is definitely NOT museumjazz. Lincoln Center PBS specials may be mildly entertaining, but they do not represent the true spirit of jazz, which is growth and change and improvisation. I hear love in this band. And lots of humor and recklessness and excitement and searching. Jazz is an imperfect art; attempts at perfection have resulted in just so much "elevator" music. Every note here is not the empirical "right" one, not every statement profound, not every tempo adhered to strictly. Then again, every human face is asymmetrical. Beauty is not perfection. It IS truth, though.
And just about everything swings seriously.
That this music exists is testament to truth in each of us. The music doesn't lie; there are no "maybe's". All that we are in our separate selves comes together in the instant we touch our instruments with intention. I hope that you can hear the wellness, the healing, the elation, the fallibility, the reaching, the PROCESS embodied here, and I wish it for you in your life and your pursuits.
I'd like to deeply thank Mel Brown and Dave Captein for being.
I'd also like to thank the immensely gifted young tenor saxophonist Scott Hall for making such an honest, passionate contribution to my music.
And, finally, thank YOU, dear reader|listener, for showing support for my continuing musical and spiritual evolution by purchasing my recordings, attending my concerts, visiting my website, and, above all, for listening.
JESSICA WILLIAMS, Dec. 1999, California
Personnel: JESSICA WILLIAMS, composer, piano, additional percussion on Trk #1; DAVE CAPTEIN, acoustic bass; MEL BROWN, drums; SCOTT HALL, tenor saxophone on Trks #1, #8. Running time approx. 72 minutes. Recorded on April 12, 13 at WHITE HORSE STUDIOS, Portland, Oregon. Engineer-BOB STARK. Digital mixdown at SIENNA DIGITAL, San Mateo, CA by RAINER GEMBALCYZK. In-studio photos by Jessica Williams, Cover photos of Jessica Williams ©2000 by Elaine Arc, Arist