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Blue fire

Bill Smith, WILLAMETTE WEEKLY, Portland OR

Anyone who's heard her complex swing can vouch for this hyperbole:

Jessica Williams is one of the great jazz pianists of our time.

She combines the frenetic swing of Art Tatum, the jagged bop of Thelonious Monk and the exquisite introspection of Bill Evans. 

Two new discs show off her unorthodox playing and composing. The Leroy Vinnegar tribute was recorded at Atwater's in December 1996. With the great walking bassist Vinnegar and drummer Mel Brown providing a steady flow of muscular rhythm, Williams is free to stretch out  her elastic improvisations in a program of standards.

The disc offers textbook trio workouts, with plenty of Vinnegar's signature sound, heavy on high-calorie tone and light on the showboating.

But it's Blue Fire, with Dave Captein on bass and Brown on drums once more, that really breaks new ground.

Though she owes plenty to some other jazz iconoclasts ("Somebody's Waltz" sounds like Monk meeting Chopin, while "The Vision" is a ballad Coltrane would have loved to coat in sonic squall): it's a beautiful, wistful album.