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LIVE AT YOSHI'S Volume One, various reviews
Jessica Williams,piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Victor Lewis, drums | Recorded July 9 and 10, 2003 at Yoshi's Nightspot in Oakland, CA in front of a live audience. Recorded for Maxjazz | listen to this cd, learn more
Critic's reviews: Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
Jessica Williams, Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (MaxJazz)
Location, location, location. It's the only thing that has ever kept pianists Dave McKenna and Jessica Williams from the ceaseless hosannas they both deserve. If McKenna and Williams lived somewhere in the five boroughs and regularly worked in Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village instead of Boston and San Francisco respectively, they would be lavishly and properly worshipped as the jazz piano deities they are.
As it is, though, they've spent careers being heard regularly only by the jazz communities in their local environs and sometimes far too infrequently on disc.
To say that Jessica Williams, at the age of 56, is the greatest living female pianist in jazz (and yes, I'm including the venerable Marian McPartland) is a needless (and demeaning) gender qualification to her most important identity.
If Keith Jarrett is jazz's great epic poet, Jessica Williams may be the great living lyric poet of the jazz keyboard.
Moments of the true sublime are far from a rarity in this trio set from San Francisco's great jazz club. Listen to what she does with Billy Cobham's "Heather." Or the three-act blues drama of her own called "Tutu's Promise."
Or her "Poem in G-Minor." Or the totally contrasting fierce parallel lines of her version of "Alone Together." Or her conjugation of the jazz pianist's vocabulary in "I'm Confessin'" from Red Garland's locked hands to Errol Garner's left-hand pulse.
She is utterly magnificent. Her trio-mates - bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis - are audibly delighted to be playing her music.
One of the great jazz records in a jazz recording year that - go figure - is turning out to be a surprisingly strong one.
-Jeff Simon, Buffalo.com
The All Music Guide, Thom Jurek
Jessica Williams is a swinging jazz pianist and a fine composer. Her recordings showcase her gifts as a jazz technician of rare facility to be sure, but she also possesses the soul of a poet: her playing is deeply expressive and wildly creative.
Live at Yoshi's, Vol. 1 was recorded over a two-night run at San Francisco's venerated jazz club in 2003. Williams is accompanied by her brilliant rhythm section: bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis. The sensitive and motivational interplay between the members of this trio is breathtaking throughout.
Drummond and Lewis do not merely provide support for Williams, they offer an exceptional and innovative rhythmic bridge for her fleet harmonic and dynamic flights. The nine cuts played here include standards like Loesser and McHugh's "Say It Over and Over Again" and Billy Eckstine's "I Want to Talk About You," all of them played as if they were written specifically for this band.
Along the way are many surprises. Take, for example, her "Tutu's Promise," with its tight, funky intro that struts its way into untried soul-jazz territory, referencing Bobby Timmons, Horace Silver, and Mary Lou Williams on the way to becoming a new kind of blues.
Her rumbling left hand and the counterpoint exchange with Drummond are priceless.
Following this is a deeply moving read of Billy Cobham's ballad "Heather." Williams evokes such tenderness from the melody with her open, droning chords and shimmering ostinati that the tune drips with emotion.
"Alone Together" goes all over the 20th century musical map, and her long opening solo references everything from Cole Porter to Bach, Grieg, and Rachmaninov to Mingus, Sonny Clark, and Lennie Tristano before the band comes in, takes it to the stratosphere, and helps her whisper it out over 12 minutes later.
Her "Poem in G minor" is a slippery, mercurial statement in color and texture; it is introspective and moody but it swings just the same, becoming an impressionistic blues along the way. Thelonious Monk's "Mysterioso" closes the set; elegant and full of humor, it stays close to the vest for about a minute before Williams goes down deep into the tune's groove with the rhythm section strutting underneath, swinging like mad.
In sum, Live at Yoshi's, Vol. 1 is one of the finer live trio sides to be issued in recent years. It is also one of Jessica Williams' best efforts ever -- which is saying a lot because her consistency has been remarkable. It is inspired and full of fire as well as aplomb. Based on the evidence here, Vol. 2 will be greeted with much anticipation.
Thom Jurek, All Music Guide
Posted on Fri, July 23, 2004: ANDREW GILBERT and JAZZ TALK: 'Williams Trio in accord on music: Treat it gently'
By Andrew Gilbert, Contra Costa Times Correspondent
When the Jessica Williams Trio plays Yoshi's this weekend, it will look like there're just three musicians on-stage, but close your eyes and you may hear a modern jazz pantheon.
Among the most lyrical and expressive pianists in jazz, Williams has come together in recent years with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis to create a superlative trio that draws inspiration from the music's giants. Williams describes this channeling as a "well of souls that speaks through us at special times," such as the two-night engagement last year at the Oakland jazz club that produced her just-released "Live at Yoshi's Volume One," an album that ranks among the best in Williams' formidable discography. It's her third release for the classy MaxJazz label, following the trio's 2002 debut "This Side Up," and last year's exquisite solo session "All Alone."
"I like this record that I just released because it's not relying on a lot of my old licks," said Williams, 56, from her house near Santa Cruz. "Usually I'd get a record and listen to it twice and put it on the shelf. I've actually listened to the advance copy for the last two months and I play it almost every day and I'm not tired of it.
"I'm not tired of 'Dexter Calling' because it makes so much sense," Williams continued, referring to tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon's classic 1961 Blue Note album. "I tend to draw a lot of inspiration over and over from people. One would think I'd have gotten tired of listening to these records after 30, 40, going on 50 years, records like 'A Love Supreme,'" by John Coltrane, "'Saxophone Colossus,'" by Sonny Rollins, "and 'Dexter Calling.'"
For the trio, summoning jazz heroes such as Gordon, Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams and Elvin Jones isn't an act of ventriloquism. While Williams has composed a number of musical tributes, she doesn't seek to evoke a musician's sound as much as an emotional essence, like a sketch artist capturing a subject's inner life with a deftly placed line.
While Williams is a private person who mostly avoids interviews, she has created a Web site that offers an intimate glimpse into her musical world (www.jessicawilliams.com). A superb writer, she describes her deep connection with artists such as Coltrane, Mary Lou Williams and Thelonious Monk, and offers beautifully rendered snapshot descriptions of encounters with players she met as a young musician in Philadelphia: musicians such as drummer Philly Joe Jones, while working as the house pianist at San Francisco's storied 1970s jazz club Keystone Korner.
In one passage, she recalls receiving an embrace from a sweat-drenched Elvin Jones. "He was playing this ballad with brushes, and it was like he was digging a big hole with soup spoons," she writes, "and he was sweating rivers, and the time in that ballad was as deep as any river."
Within moments of hearing of his death two months ago, Williams sat down and recorded a solo tribute to him, an album that is now available through her Web site. "Not a day goes by that I don't listen to him or think about him," Williams said. "I just remember him bringing in a bag of oranges to Keystone Korner and sitting there peeling them. And I remember him hugging me, and leaving me soaking wet. I didn't know him hardly at all but through his music, and I have this feeling that he was full of love."
That's an apt description of Williams' music. Her profound connection with Lewis and Drummond has created a vehicle in which the music seems to flow as a force of nature. For Drummond, the secret of the trio's power is that the musicians allow each other to get out of the music's way.
"A lot of this has to do with Jessica feeling very comfortable," Drummond said. "She has nothing to prove, just let that music flow. You know how fussy she is, she hates everything she's done, but she loves this recording. She's going through a spiritual renaissance. She's on Cloud Nine, and you can hear that in the music."
Williams echoes Drummonds' sense of what makes the trio such an emotionally vivid ensemble. She notes that they all grew up listening to the same music, were moved by the same players, and absorbed the same musical values.
"We all come from the same generation, and proper respect is paid to certain guidelines," Williams said. "Treat it gently, but throw caution to the wind once in a while. Play within the changes, but don't be afraid to take it out a step or two, but never so far that people won't be able to hear it and feel the love in the music. I think that's the first priority with me and Victor and Ray, to always communicate. Not to show anybody how we're good musicians, or 'Look what we can do.' It's always about how can we touch the people."
-Andrew Gilbert, Contra Costa Times
By C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
Jessica Williams Live at Yoshi's Volume One (MXJ 210)
Live at Yoshi's is Miss Williams third recording for the label. Her two previous MAXJAZZ recordings, recent This Side Up and All Alone were very well received at this magazine as well as others.
To my mind Live at Yoshi's Volume One is Jessica Williams finest effort to date. She is simply a pianistic force of nature that will not be denied.
As with the Zeitlin recording, MAXJAZZ couples Miss Williams with the eminent bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis. In contrast to her previous all solo piano recording, which highlighted Miss Williams' considerable composing skills, Live at Yoshi's has her motivating through time tested standards. A sprite 'I'm confessing that I Love You' is followed by a languid 'Say It Over and Over Again' wonderfully rendered.
Things become very interesting on the Williams' composition 'Tutu's Promise' where the pianist adds a bit of funk to the mix. But that is only how the piece begins. Jessica Williams touches on several genera in the nine-plus minutes of the song. Williams plays some of the best Gene Harris since that pianist's death. At about the halfway mark, Miss Williams begins to rock, passing through a New Orleans funeral march, through a boogie woogie, on to the song's bluesy coda.
She follows this Tour de force with the splendidly expressed 'Heather' a Billy Cobham composition. This piece has a beautiful minor-key mood that occurs in a simple progression. Miss Williams chooses her notes carefully and the results are longingly exquisite.
As with her previous, releases, This Jessica Williams offering will have a place on my best-of-the-year list.
-C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
Don Williamson, music critic
Year: 2004 -Record Label: MAXJAZZ - Style: Straight-Ahead / Classic- Musicians: Jessica Williams (piano), Ray Drummond (bass), Victor Lewis (drums) Review:
The Village Vanguard in New York may be known as the jazz club of choice for live recordings of top jazz artists throughout the second half of the twentieth century. MAXJAZZ itself has released two live CD's from that venue. However, MAXJAZZ appears to have developed an interest in recording live piano trio performances from the other coast- at Yoshi's in Jack London Square in Oakland, California. First was Mulgrew Miller's Live At Yoshi's: Volume One, and now comes Jessica Williams' CD of the same name. Yoshi's artistic director Peter Williams waxes enthusiastic about the opportunities fulfilled there, and the combined energies of Williams, MAXJAZZ and the musicians no doubt will lead to more live recordings from there.
Crackling applause greets Williams trio as they begin the performance, and the crowd's enthusiasm continues throughout the CD. When the audience recognizes the melody to I'm Confessin That I Love You, renewed applause breaks out, and then Williams takes them from the familiar to the unfamiliar, improvisation substituting for melody-making.
At first, Williams plays the tune as a whimsical solo, replete with arpeggios, brief substitutions and warm rumbling chords. When she plays the song as a melody of alternating notes octaves apart, a hint occurs of Williams fondness for toying with octaves, a quote for Salt Peanuts sneaking in during the course of her improvisation. But eventually Williams settles into a stride rhythm marked by quarter-note-accenting left-hand time-markers, akin to Erroll Garners, and Drummond and Lewis join in. The clarity of Williams' sound and the creativity of her thought emerge. And then it's sustained throughout the rest of the performance.
Even though Williams certainly knows how to swing- a prerequisite for her work with the likes of Stan Getz- she remains an unpredictable pianist, accessible and yet explorative. On Alone Together, she deconstructs the tune, first in non-metrical plinking, the notes falling where they may (or seemingly so), and then in contrapuntal minimalism as she switches the melody between the left and right hands and uses single interwoven lines to stitch together a pattern through implication by outlining.
No one in the audience knows where Williams is headed, but she resolves the imaginative solo with legato block chord improvisation when Drummond and Lewis join in. Though Monk remains a primary influence for Williams, she converts his Mysterioso into a lightly swinging blues, more Williams than Monk, as she briefly abandons the composition's signature intervals of sixths and tremolos. When she does return to Monkisms, they're the closely spaced chords of whole and half tones, and not as jagged or stabbing as Monk's chorded attacks.
With Live At Yoshi's: Volume One, Jessica Williams has documented her ability to entrance an audience in a nightclub setting, and she has added one more setting to her growing string of MAXJAZZ releases that capture her emphasis on the richness of her sound and the her no-nonsense ability to craft new forms from the raw material of the songs that she plays with her trio.
Reviewed by: Don Williamson
Chris May , All About Jazz
Live At Yoshi's Volume One, Jessica Williams, MaxJazz
It's all too easy to let piano trio albums pass you by. The format is so familiar, and the palette so thoroughly explored, that the prospect of adventure and surprise may seem remote. If it's not the Esbjorn Svensson Trio or the Bad Plus, packing their radical hairstyles and digital effects, the music can find itself cursorily dismissed as predictable and pedestrian, at best, or cocktail bar irrelevancy, at worst.
Which is why you won't find Jessica Williams written about on the more self-consciously modish jazz pages. A mature artist at the peak of her powers, her joyous and uplifting music is an exquisite balm for tired ears and souls, moving with easy assurance between funked-up two-fisted exuberance and limpid delicacy.
Thelonious Monk is frequently cited as a significant influence- by listeners and by Williams herself- and sure enough this album opens with a Monkish I'm Confessin That I Love You and closes with Monk's own Mysterioso (seguing into Blue Monk). There are further echoes of Monk and others of Hampton Hawes, but it is Williams herself who resonates most powerfully through the set, always swinging, often taking delightfully unexpected harmonic twists and turns, and with a masterful sense of pacing and dynamic variation.
Two of the standout tracks here are hugely reminiscent of EST and TBP and, either by accident or design, grouped one after the other in the running order: Williams' own Tutu's Promise is a blues funk gumbo heavy on bass frequency ostinato (and some inventive sonic effects), while her arrangement of Billy Cobham's Heather is as spectral and trippy as anything in the EST oeuvre. Williams is superbly accompanied by Ray Drummond and Victor Lewis, who recorded with her first on 2001's This Side Up, a mainly-originals set in contrast to this mainly-standards affair.
There is a strong feeling of comradeship and shared purpose between the three musicians. They're fortunate to have each other and it sounds like they know it.
A joy listen to.
Roll on Volume Two.
Reviewed by: Chris May , All About Jazz
Jon Poses, The Columbia Daily Tribune
Jessica Williams has issued another recording for the MAXJAZZ label. This time, Williams, as fluid as they get, as inventive as they get, offers a live date, one recorded at the Bay Areas best-known venue, Yoshis.
Of late - as well as on this date - Williams has been working with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis. About the only nonoriginal morsel of this release is that it is called "Live at Yoshis Volume I," which implies there is a sequel in the works. Thats good. Unlike movies, this sequel can only shine.
Williams has a distinct and delightful flair in her technique; there are some Tynerisms in her work. She also is driven by tinges of the blues and soul. Her partners on this live expedition are two of the best. It is really a treat to hear the combined consummate professionalism and virtuosity of Drummond and Lewis mesh with Williams. It is almost as if selection doesnt matter.
This recording moves seamlessly from one selection to the next, be they Williams originals, Billy Cobhams "Heather," a standard such as Frank Loessers "Say It Over and Over Again" or Billy Eckstines "I Want to Talk About You," which John Coltrane embedded into the jazz songbook four decades ago.
This volumes close is an interpretation of Thelonious Monks fantabulous "Mysterioso."
Copyright © 2004 Jon Poses The Columbia Daily Tribune All Rights Reserved.
Glenn Whip, LA Daily News
Live at Yoshi's Vol. 1
Put brilliant pianist Williams with the ace rhythm section of bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Victor Lewis and you know you're in for something special, and this live date doesn't disappoint.
Williams, a crack composer herself, leans pretty heavily on outside material, but that's OK, because this trio can take even a familiar song like I'm Confessin That I Love You and turn it into something you've never heard before with a nice quote from Salt Peanuts attached.
Highlights include the funky original, Tutu's Promise, followed by a tender reading of Billy Cobham's melodic ballad Heather.
Piano trios don't get any better than this.
Reviewed by: Glenn Whip, LA Daily News