Jessica Williams – This Side Up

Jessica WilliamsJessica Williams
This Side Up

(MaxJazz – 2002)
by John Barrett

Try to hear this with closed eyes. If you know Jessica Williams from her Monk tributes, put them out of your mind – this is different. Her notes roll nimbly on “The Judge”, with a clipped response from her left hand. This is a cute riff, like the bass part on “Stolen Moments”; it is met by warm chords, and the strong work of her trio. Victor Lewis fills the silence with big brushes; Jessica turns inward, and bassist Ray Drummond follows the path of Williams’ left hand. The contrast between her quiet musings and the riff’s persistent force is a beautiful thing … as it is when she turns to block chords. The sound is late ‘Fifties Blue Note – the assured funk of musicians who know their job and do it effortlessly.

“Blue Tuesday” starts like an excerpt from Song for My Father – a steady pulse leading to a mournful theme. Jessica walks slowly and strums the piano strings, as bells begin to descend. Her solo is careful, as evenly-spaced notes trip across a spare background. In time it becomes playful, which is where Drummond picks up the pace. Lewis strikes with a dull thud (sounds like a flyswatter!) and Jessica wiggles, her tone like a music box.

“Black Diamonds” ride a tempestuous wave, from abstract storms to spy-movie vamps; she’s Cecil Taylor one moment and Vince Guaraldi the next! Victor dances well on the cymbals; he’s the model of sophistication. Some Monk-isms creep into “Little Bird Song”, and “Serenata” is a classical repose, where Ray walks grandly and the piano curtseys. This music is of the old school … with plenty of class!

“Miles to Go” is a simple blues … though “simple” may be the wrong word. Jessica’s notes end in a weird decay, as if she plays a guitar and slides the strings. (Drummond does the same thing during her solo.) Dedicated to Davis, the tune’s only resemblance to Miles would be its delight in the unexpected. She brings grace to Roland Kirk’s “Theme for the Eulipians”, and romps on “I Remember Dexter”, where the background riff suggests “This Here”. Lewis gets a hard beat going as Williams coasts – her moods are many and her pace is variable. Ray’s solo is a long, charming drawl. And “Off Blue” is a solid soul-jazz groove, where the glowing chords meet tough, exciting cymbals. This trio knows the “old” sound, and plays it with a conviction you rarely find these days. Find this treasure, and listen often.