The Art Of The Piano
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One of America's great musical treasures, pianist Jessica Williams returns with her third in a series of superlative solo piano recordings for Origin Records. Here, in performance at the Triple Door in Seattle, according to Williams, 'There was so much love in the audience that it actually drew the music out of me. I have the best audiences I know of: never loud, raucous, or challenging. They're wonderful folks, and even the ones I hardly know seem like friends.' In this environment, Williams creates a heartfelt and moving program of mostly original compositions that will surely stand as one of the most complete musical statements of her career.
One of the top pianists of today, she is a giant, consistently brilliant. --Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
The most important pianist to arrive since Bill Evans. --Alun Morgan, Gramophone
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What results is heard in this live recording in a concert setting: beauty and subtlety and sweetness. With six of her own compositions and two improvisations on Erik Satie and John Coltrane pieces, her music is akin to Keith Jarrett's romantic and semi-classical solo explorations, though the unique Williams style or "voice" is consistent. Her first track, a fun blues, well demonstrates her novel piano technique and her variation on the Satie Gymnopédie is a rich invention. This decade has seen a remarkable development in her playing, beginning with her 2001 live concert at Maybeck Hall in Berkeley and closing with this 2009 performance at the Triple Door in Seattle. This recording is a brilliant addition to the large Jessica Williams catalogue.
Not only that, the program is accompanied by an "artist's statement". These are not just liner notes, but a quite personal statement about the music and her musical journey. I found them enthralling. Jazz live performance, where the audience often treat the music as a background to their eating or drinking or as just entertainment is rarely given the dignity it truly deserves. I once said to Dr Billy Taylor in New York at one of his outdoor events in Central Park "This is the classical music of 20th Century" and he just smiled benignly at my comment, which was probably first made by Mr Edward Kennedy Ellington about 50 years ago. It is true that much beloved jazz has arisen out of such venues as the Cotton Club, the Village Vanguard(VG) etc. One famous record of a piano trio by Bill Evans (at the VG)has an unbelievable level of audience noise it is true, especially noticeable when the bass player solos, but still a selfish intrusion into the music by those in the audience. Perhaps worse is the Plugged Nickel of Miles Davis .I'm completely on side with Keith Jarrett here who tries to encourage certain standards of behaviour from the audience - the musicians' medium is sound so one has to respect that.
In her liner notes statement she makes reference to the predisposition of performers to "play up" to the audience at the expense of the music. I know what she means. The only time I was lucky enough to hear Oscar Peterson perform in a concert setting, he showed the audience an amazing wealth of technical wizardry but left us(me) unmoved. I can assure the reader that Ms Williams in this program The Art of the Piano, she places the music, and its quality of sound, very much first - being made in the presence of a respectful audience shows too.
In this regard her views on the music and the instrument are reassuring and very interesting - both in regards to tuning of the instrument, its characteristics, and her preferences as well as to the quality of the recording. As a long time lover of the piano as the premier instrument of musical expression, the series of piano records made at Maybeck Hall did set something of a standard in jazz piano recital at least in my opinion as a humble listener. Ms Williams recorded their and it was issued as Volume 21 in the series.
To the CD under review: it succeeds and is a very special program of music, played by a consummate artist on a beautiful sounding instrument before a respectful audience and has been recorded to a high standard. It has an aura and feel about it where the artist's statement segues seamlessly into the music, into the sound, and the word "hush" comes to mind. We may hold our breath as she opens Satie's piece, but an improvisation on it settles our fears magnificently. The program is quite a beautiful and heartfelt listen. Perhaps even a major achievement by this artist. A significant record of accomplished pianism.