Is Jessica Williams capable of a false step?
The pianist continues to put out one stellar recording after another, though without the fanfare that accompanies some of her peers. Her latest, a tribute to John Coltrane, is as soulful as anything she's recorded and just as elegant.
The eight tracks are evenly split between Williams originals and Coltrane classics. The opener, Williams' "The Seeker," plays like a Coltrane tune. Williams' thick block chords and gospel-like touches suggest Coltrane's favored pianist, McCoy Tyner; drummer Mel Lewis echoes Elvin Jones' thundering tom-tom rolls; while the meditative melody brings to mind Coltrane's "Crescent."
But it's certainly not all pastiche. The title track is a rollicking blues, while "just Words" is a graceful mid-tempo with a logical forward momentum. Of the four Coltrane songs, it's the ballads "Naima" and "Welcome" that shine brightest--the former bittersweet, the latter contemplative but with an underlying sense of uplift.
Williams is known for idiosyncratic touches such as inside-the-piano tricks and offbeat pedal effects. Here she plays it straight, letting the tunes themselves shine. That's not to say her technique is any less impressive. Her sense of dynamics is impeccable, she maintains clarity in her single-note passes in the highest registers, and her left hand goes beyond mere support, providing the contrast that puts the right-hand melody in greater relief. And there's the way she seamlessly shifts the melody to her left hand, as on her solo in "Paul's Pal."
In many ways, this is a typical Jessica Williams record. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.