Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Williams original tunes glow with joy and rapture. They seem to grow free like vibrant flowering vines, entwining rhythmic fence posts as they open up melodic and harmonic blooms... 'Touch' is the work of a supremely confident artist who has mastered her craft and melded it to her spiritual center, to share it. Absolutely gorgeous!" -All About Jazz
"Pianist Jessica Williams continues to evolve, and what a pure music lover's joy it is to hear an artist entering her sixth decade on a roll, growing and expanding her vision. Classically trained at the Peabody Conservatory, jazz-trained in the bands of Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, Stan Getz and others, Williams furthered her education with her own - more than seventy - albums/CDs as a leader.
Always a high level jazzer, Williams rose to the top ranks of her craft when she started her own Red and Blue Records. Three of the label's discs stand out as vehicles toward Williams ascent to the peak of her profession: For John Coltrane (2005), Tatum's Ultimatum (2007) and Deep Monk (2008). The sets are Williams' very deeply-felt personal tributes to three giants, John Coltrane, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. These would have cemented her reputation as a singular artist. But...
In the same time frame when she was recording these tribute albums on her own label, Williams was also - for Seattle's Origin Records - recording her own solo piano CDs, pure Jessica sets: Songs for a New Century(2008), where the pianist jettisoned all the hype and expectations and found her musical center, The Art of the Piano (2009), which is very similar to Songs...," but played in a live in concert rather than in studio, and now Touch.
Vocalist Tony Bennett was reportedly informed, early in his career by Pearl Bailey, that it was going to take him ten years merely to learn how to walk out on the stage. If that is true, how long does it take to learn how to touch a key on the piano? How softly or how hard to press in any given situation? How long to sustain (or not sustain) the note?
Williams "touch" on the piano is her voice. It can be elegant or down and dirty, erudite or fun-loving, and always seems full of a far-reaching, seeking spirituality. She is a rare artist whose each individual note, each touch of a key, contains clarity and beauty and wonder.
Touch, the CD, takes the sound of discovery and wonder Williams has offered up the the previously mentioned Origin Records sets and pushed it forward.
Williams feels her way into the familiar on the disc's opening cut, Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy." When she finds the melody, she expresses it with a lush harmony and a relaxed feel. She makes it sound holy, like a ruminative prayer of solemn joy and praise. The audience, at song's end, hesitates, stunned perhaps, before it breaks into into applause, a whoop from the back of the room. It may have been the most beautiful nine minutes they have ever heard.
The three other non-originals on the set get similar treatment. Coltrane's "Wise One" carries on Williams' fascination with the late saxophonist. She is his finest interpreter, capturing his otherworldly sacredness of his music. "I Cover the Waterfront" lightens the mood, with Williams dishing out flurries of notes with her right hand, a deliberate rhythm in her left. On Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," the legendary bassist/composer's tribute to saxophonist Lester Young, Williams captures the near teeth-gnashing pathos of the original - from Mingus Ah Um (Columbia Records, 1959) - and tempers it with acceptance while still seeming to question a creator who would take such a gentle soul away.
Williams original tunes glow with joy and rapture. They seem to grow free like vibrant flowering vines, entwining rhythmic fence posts as they open up melodic and harmonic blooms. "Soldaji" sounds like an awakening from a gentle dream. "Rosa Parks" brims with a simple beauty and hope. And "Simple Things" closes the set on a buoyant note that leaves a smile.
Touch is the work of a supremely confident artist who has mastered her craft and melded it to her spiritual center, to share it. Absolutely gorgeous!" -AllAboutJazz
JazzTimes (p.59) - "'I Loves You Porgy' feels gentle and romantic but not saccharine. The intro to 'I Cover the Waterfront' sounds like Art Tatum channeling Thelonious Monk."
Personnel: Jessica Williams (piano).
Liner Note Author: Jessica Williams .
Recording information: The Triple Door, Seattle, WA (01/07/2010).
Photographer: Elaine Arc.
Jessica Williams has amassed an impressive discography over her decades-long career, but as she entered her sixties, she began focusing more on solo piano. This is her second concert recording at The Triple Door in Seattle, a dinner theater with a majestic nine-foot Steinway D grand piano. Her touching, lyrical interpretation of "I Loves You, Porgy" (a favorite of Bill Evans) is full of rich voicings, while her thoughtful setting of John Coltrane's "Wise One" is reflected as a brooding lament. Williams' stunning performance of Charles Mingus' moving tribute to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," is accented by her skillful use of the pedal to accent the anguish within this jazz standard. Her originals also deserve strong praise. "Rosa Parks" is an understated ballad honoring the brave woman whose actions sparked the Montgomery bus boycott during the struggle for civil rights. Williams' dramatic ballad finale, "Simple Things," incorporates a bit of subtle humor. The audience recognized that they were in the presence of a jazz master that evening, remaining hushed throughout each selection, graciously allowing the final notes to fade before applauding. Williams' liner notes are an added bonus, explaining her approach to piano and the reason that some pianists sing along as they play, and openly admitting that she will stop midway into a piece during a performance if she feels it doesn't suit her on that occasion. Jessica Williams' Touch is destined to become not only a high point in her discography, but one for solo jazz piano as a whole. ~ Ken Dryden