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Jeff Simon 3/31/02- Buffalo News


That there is still room for stunning creativity and even Lorca's duende in a conventional jazz piano trio can be confirmed by listening to "This Side Up" (Maxjazz), the sensitive and tremendous new disc by Jessica Williams, perhaps the most beloved little-known pianist in jazz.

Certainly she is the most poetic of all living jazz pianists.

Everyone who has heard her play is a little bit in love with her. Everyone else will hear the poetry of her Mary Lou Williams tribute "Serenata" (performed here, as on earlier Williams discs) and know that it bids fair to be a jazz classic.

And then, on her Miles Davis tribute, a blues called "Miles to Go," she somehow succeeds in bending tones on the piano with the precision of a string or brass instrument. No, it hasn't been all that rare to hear pianists reach into the strings for effects since great American composer pianist Henry Cowell began the practice, but no one I've ever heard has ever done it with the expressive precision of Jessica Williams.

If recorded jazz - like all industry-preserved music - can be heard to be shrinking somewhat in the face of a general recorded music downturn, its international presence may be a large transfusion of exactly what's needed in a time of corporate fear.

And, even if it isn't, there is always Jessica Williams to keep on doing what the great jazz musicians have always done - play magnificent music in whatever context they can and wait for the right sets of ears to arrive to listen.

-Jeff Simon 3/31/02- Buffalo News