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By Alan Lankin, JazzMaTazz

All Alone- Jessica Williams

Considering her strong playing, pianist Jessica Williams isn't as well known as she should be, perhaps because she doesn't often travel outside of Northern California.

(I'll go anywhere to play this music if I can get a tour date. Plus, I live outside of Detroit. - JW)

Williams has a masterful command of the piano, with a sensitive touch, crisp attack and rhythmic precision. Her new release is a solo piano album, appropriately named All Alone. It follows her first MaxJazz album, This Side Up, a trio album released in 2001.

Williams makes an interesting choice of tunes and song order rather than intersperse standards and original, she keeps each composer's songs adjacent. One could even view the recording as being programmed in two halves, with the first half opening with As Time Goes By and closing with Don't Explain, and with pairs of Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin compositions in between.

The second half has four originals followed by a coda of two standards.

I enjoyed her interesting twists on standards, such as her Art Tatumesque runs on Herman Hupfeld's As Time Goes By. (The song is best known from 1942's film Casablanca, but was originally from the 1931 stage musical Everybody's Welcome.) She plays a crisp version Duke Ellington's In A Sentimental Mood with emotion and space and his Warm Valley as a soft ballad.

Thelonious Monk's influence on Williams is displayed on her version of Irving Berlin's All Alone, which displays Monk's love of stride and his off kilter runs. Williams's version of Berlin's They Say It's Wonderful is somehow rich and sparse at the same time. She then plays Don't Explain before proceeding to her four originals.

Her lyrical "Toshiko" sounds almost like a hymn. (I assume it's for pianist/bandleader Toshiko Akiyoshi.) She goes inside the piano and strums the strings to interesting effect during parts of The Sheikh, which has a Latin feel and some interesting rhythms. Her ballad Bill's Beauty is a beauty and her final original, The Quilt, has an interesting narrative feel in its development.

Williams's originals may take longer to appreciate because they aren't as familiar as the standards, but their impact grows upon repeated listenings.

She finishes up with Mingus's Orange Was the Color of Her Dress and a Harold Adamson & Jimmy McHugh's 1955 Broadway tune Too Young to Go Steady.

All Alone is one of the most enjoyable solo piano recordings of the year.

Recommended. -ALAN LANKIN, JazzMaTazz


From FANFARE Magazine: The Jazz Column by Michael Ullman

There's been a plethora of excellent piano discs recently, many of them coming from another independent company, MaxJazz. They include the virtuosic powerhouse Mulgrew Millerís Live at Yoshiís (MaxJazz 208), a striking disc by the psychiatrist-pianist, Denny Zeitlin ( Slick Rock, MaxJazz209), and a solo album by one of my favorite pianists, Jessica Williams. All Alone (MaxJazz 206) is a joy throughout. This set opens with As Time Goes By.

It's mostly ballads such as the Irving Berlin title song, made famous in the thirties by Connee Boswell. The Boswell rendition should have been the soundtrack to a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.

I admire Williams' melodic inventions, but also the variety of her left hand, with its easy-going stride patterns, nonchalant strums, occasional chomping repeated chords, and walking basses. There's nothing forced in all of this.

Listening to Williams play In a Sentimental Mood, Ellingtonians will recognize certain of the Duke's piano patterns from the recording he made with John Coltrane. It sounds right in her hands. I wouldn't change a thing in her playing. -The Jazz Column by Michael Ullman