Jessica Williams

The Art of the Piano



iTunes - $9.99

MUSIC REVIEW BY -Chris Robinson, Earshot Jazz


College sports reporters, analysts and commentators (especially those on the West Coast) describe what they believe to be an East Coast bias when it comes to team rankings. The same can be said for the lack of national recognition of some of Seattle's ? and arguably the nation's ? best jazz artists. I dare you: just try and find any Seattle artists (save for Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz and recent NYC transplant Tom Varner) listed in JazzTimes' and Downbeat's recent critics and fan polls. Go ahead ? try and find Jessica Williams, whose album Songs for a New Century was arguably one of the finest releases of last year. (I, in fact, made this argument, as I threw votes her way in my recent DownBeat critics poll ballot.) And sadly, I predict the same lack of national recognition next year for her new solo album, The Art of the Piano, which is even better than last year's effort and which should set a standard for solo piano albums.

For those of us who weren't at the Triple Door on April 9, 2009, Jessica Williams fortunately recorded her set and released it as The Art of the Piano. Should you buy it, I'd recommend getting the actual CD as opposed to downloading it, as Williams included an essay that provides great insights into her as an artist as well as her personal philosophy on music, jazz and the piano. It's an interesting and informative artist's manifesto in which, among other things, she describes her life and career changing experience of hearing Glenn Gould perform Bach's Goldberg Variations. After that she did not want to play like most jazz pianists (I'm confident that she has succeeded) who comp with the left hand and use the right hand for single note lines. She then began to try new techniques and revisit some others from her childhood, such as learning how to make the piano sound like a guitar without touching the strings, as she does on the opener "Triple Door Blues" (no, I don't know how she does it either).

When describing a pianist's sound people often speak of touch. In Williams' case, I'm not sure if "touch" is an adequate way to conceptualize her sound, as she is able to get more timbres from her piano than anyone I've heard. She describes in her essay several ways she attacks the keys, each to create different sounds. Through her experimentation, Williams takes advantage of the piano's color palette possibilities and incorporates that in her highly personal approach, which seems to employ numerous "touches." Six of the album's eight cuts are by Williams. The two covers are Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament," which closes the album, and a stunningly gorgeous version of Erik Satie's "First Gymnop�die," which she takes in a direction, via a slightly lilting swing feel, that I've not heard. The Art of the Piano's music is beautiful, personal, honest, natural and deep. I would love to be able to say more about the music in more detail, but I fear I would not do it justice. Do yourselves a favor: listen to this album.





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