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Jeff Williams - The Listener Rating: 4 out of 5 This is an excellent band and the musicianship is impeccable throughout.

Jeff Williams

“The Listener”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4616)

The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams (born 1950) leads a Transatlantic existence, maintaining homes in both London and New York and also running bands in both cities. In the UK he has worked with saxophonist Martin Speake, pianist Nikki Iles and composer Mike Gibbs and many others. Meanwhile in the US he has accompanied some of the biggest stars of the music including saxophonists Stan Getz, Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Art Farmer, pianist Cedar Walton and guitarist John Abercrombie. I’ve been an admirer of Williams’ playing since his mid 70’s days with saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa. He then dropped off my musical radar for a while before I rediscovered him as part of Speake’s “Change of Heart” and “Generations” groups and subsequently saw him perform festival sets with Iles and most recently Gibbs.

In 2011 Williams introduced his New York Quartet to British audiences via the release of the splendid album “Another Time” on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. Williams’ first recording as a leader for ten years was very well received and in May 2012 the drummer brought the quartet featuring trumpeter Duane Eubanks, alto saxophonist John O’ Gallagher and bassist John Hebert over to the UK for a short tour that included a successful appearance at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I was lucky enough to catch the quartet on their last night at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham,a pleasingly relaxed and informal performance that yielded some quite marvellous playing from all members of the group. Both the Moseley performance and the album “Another Time” are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Between the Cheltenham and Moseley performances the quartet appeared at The Vortex in London where this splendid live album was recorded. Some of the material is inevitably drawn from “Another Time” but with the quartet expanding substantially on the originals, and there are also a number of new compositions, notably from the pen of Eubanks, an increasingly significant composing presence within the band.

The quartet’s Birmingham show was a free-wheeling affair that showcased some often fiery playing. This was a band that was having “serious fun” and these same qualities are much in evidence on the Vortex live recording. The then new Eubanks composition “Beer And Water” leads off the set with the composer soloing fluently above the fluid rhythmic flow of Hebert and Williams. There’s also an episode of solo bass and some fine interplay between the horns of Eubanks and O’Gallagher. The chordless nature of the line up invites comparisons with that of Ornette Coleman’ classic quartet but there’s nothing wilfully “difficult” about the Williams’ quartet’s music, instead this is the sound of a group thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Williams’  “Borderline”,  begins with the sound of unison horns before expanding to accommodate bass and drums with Hebert delivering another impressive solo bass feature. Originally from New Orleans Hebert is now one of New York’s most in demand bass players for his versatility and adaptability allied to an impressive technical skill. O’Gallagher, so impressive in Birmingham, stretches out at length shadowed by drummer Williams and Eubanks again impresses in a three way conversation with the bass and drums. The title of the album is based on the precept that “meaningful improvisation requires deep listening among the musicians”, something that is superbly demonstrated here. Williams is an exemplary accompanist as his work as a busy sideman has demonstrated, however as a leader of his own groups he’s also an accomplished drum soloist as his feature here proves. “Borderline” originally appeared on Williams 1995 album “Jazzblues” featuring pianist Kevin Hays but has been substantially reinvented by the current quartet.

From “Another Time” Williams’ composition “She Can’t Be A Spy” was influenced by the now familiar news story of Russian intelligence agents infiltrating seemingly ordinary US communities. As on the previous two pieces there is a distinct “Coleman-esque” feel with the highlights including inspired musical conversations between first O’Gallagher and later Eubanks with the ever receptive and flexible rhythmic team. Time Out NY spoke of Williams’ “supple rhythmic flow”, something that is apparent throughout the album and which is well demonstrated here.

Hebert’s solo bass introduces another piece from “Another Time”, his own “Fez” which adds an appropriately North African ambience to the proceedings through the inflections of O’Gallagher’s alto and Eubanks’ trumpet. Both horn men deliver absorbing solos above the polyrhythmic chatter of Williams’ drums and the composer’s sturdy but always flexible bass, variously plucked, strummed and bowed.

The bassist also begins Williams’ “Lament”, a piece written in tribute to a former drum student whose life ended in drug addiction and tragedy. A lengthy, sometimes sombre solo bass leads into Eubanks’ trumpet feature, a kind of valedictory “last post” underscored by Williams’ cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles. O’Gallagher’s caustic alto then seems to mirror Williams’ anger at this unnecessary death as the leader’s powerful drumming drives the music on.

A new Williams tune, “Scrunge” (great title) is segued with “Search Me”, the opening track from the quartet’s studio album. Here Williams and Hebert introduce a kind of cerebral funkiness to the proceedings with O’Gallagher’s fluent but slightly acerbic alto riding high above. Eubanks is next to go but there’s also some impressive interplay between the horns plus the now customary musical conversations involving horns, bass and drums. Williams leads things subtly from behind the kit and the customary boundaries between “front” and “back” lines are consistently blurred throughout the album with the music all the better for it. O’Gallagher gets to reprise his earlier contribution with another barnstorming solo urged on by Williams at the drums. Something that particularly jumped out at me at the Birmingham shows was just how hard Williams can hit the drums, he’s a wonderfully sensitive accompanist and sideman but is capable of generating genuine raw power, particularly when leading his own groups. 

Eubanks’ “Slew Footed”, a piece that impressed in Birmingham, is little more than a cameo here and the album concludes with the quartet’s interpretation of “Dedicated To You” (Chaplin/Zaret/Cahn), their encore on the night. Eubanks’ pure toned but melancholy solo trumpet starts things off, later adding subtle blues inflections as he’s joined by Hebert’s rich bass undertow. O’Gallagher subsequently enters the proceedings, alternating the lead with Eubanks on a piece that places the emphasis on beauty and emotional impact and keeps things relatively simple.

Although there’s an unavoidable degree of overlap with “Another Time” “The Listener” offers a wealth of new material and fans who enjoyed the previous album will also wish to own this. For anybody who saw the group on their 2012 tour it’s a great souvenir and with over an hours worth of music, much of it previously unheard, the album constitutes good value for money. This is an excellent band and the musicianship is impeccable throughout. 

Williams is due to launch the album (released 1st June 2013) with two London shows featuring British musicians as follows;
 

Monday 20 May - The Oxford
Jeff Williams Quintet featuring Finn Peters - alto saxophone / flute, Josh Arcoleo - tenor saxophone,
Phil Robson - guitar & Sam Lasserson - bass
The Oxford, 256 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2AA / £5 on the door / 9pm / http://theoxfordjazz.com/

The Vortex Jazz Club
11 Gillett Square,
London N16 8AZ
Venue telephone: 020 7254 4097
Venue website: http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk
Tue 4 Jun | 8.30pm
£10
Jeff Williams’ UK Quintet
Finn Peters - alto saxophone and flute
Josh Arcoleo - tenor saxophone
Kit Downes - piano
Sam Lasserson - bass
Jeff Williams - drums and compositions


 

The Listener

Jeff Williams

Monday, May 20, 2013

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Listener

This is an excellent band and the musicianship is impeccable throughout.

Jeff Williams

“The Listener”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4616)

The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams (born 1950) leads a Transatlantic existence, maintaining homes in both London and New York and also running bands in both cities. In the UK he has worked with saxophonist Martin Speake, pianist Nikki Iles and composer Mike Gibbs and many others. Meanwhile in the US he has accompanied some of the biggest stars of the music including saxophonists Stan Getz, Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Art Farmer, pianist Cedar Walton and guitarist John Abercrombie. I’ve been an admirer of Williams’ playing since his mid 70’s days with saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa. He then dropped off my musical radar for a while before I rediscovered him as part of Speake’s “Change of Heart” and “Generations” groups and subsequently saw him perform festival sets with Iles and most recently Gibbs.

In 2011 Williams introduced his New York Quartet to British audiences via the release of the splendid album “Another Time” on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. Williams’ first recording as a leader for ten years was very well received and in May 2012 the drummer brought the quartet featuring trumpeter Duane Eubanks, alto saxophonist John O’ Gallagher and bassist John Hebert over to the UK for a short tour that included a successful appearance at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I was lucky enough to catch the quartet on their last night at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham,a pleasingly relaxed and informal performance that yielded some quite marvellous playing from all members of the group. Both the Moseley performance and the album “Another Time” are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Between the Cheltenham and Moseley performances the quartet appeared at The Vortex in London where this splendid live album was recorded. Some of the material is inevitably drawn from “Another Time” but with the quartet expanding substantially on the originals, and there are also a number of new compositions, notably from the pen of Eubanks, an increasingly significant composing presence within the band.

The quartet’s Birmingham show was a free-wheeling affair that showcased some often fiery playing. This was a band that was having “serious fun” and these same qualities are much in evidence on the Vortex live recording. The then new Eubanks composition “Beer And Water” leads off the set with the composer soloing fluently above the fluid rhythmic flow of Hebert and Williams. There’s also an episode of solo bass and some fine interplay between the horns of Eubanks and O’Gallagher. The chordless nature of the line up invites comparisons with that of Ornette Coleman’ classic quartet but there’s nothing wilfully “difficult” about the Williams’ quartet’s music, instead this is the sound of a group thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Williams’  “Borderline”,  begins with the sound of unison horns before expanding to accommodate bass and drums with Hebert delivering another impressive solo bass feature. Originally from New Orleans Hebert is now one of New York’s most in demand bass players for his versatility and adaptability allied to an impressive technical skill. O’Gallagher, so impressive in Birmingham, stretches out at length shadowed by drummer Williams and Eubanks again impresses in a three way conversation with the bass and drums. The title of the album is based on the precept that “meaningful improvisation requires deep listening among the musicians”, something that is superbly demonstrated here. Williams is an exemplary accompanist as his work as a busy sideman has demonstrated, however as a leader of his own groups he’s also an accomplished drum soloist as his feature here proves. “Borderline” originally appeared on Williams 1995 album “Jazzblues” featuring pianist Kevin Hays but has been substantially reinvented by the current quartet.

From “Another Time” Williams’ composition “She Can’t Be A Spy” was influenced by the now familiar news story of Russian intelligence agents infiltrating seemingly ordinary US communities. As on the previous two pieces there is a distinct “Coleman-esque” feel with the highlights including inspired musical conversations between first O’Gallagher and later Eubanks with the ever receptive and flexible rhythmic team. Time Out NY spoke of Williams’ “supple rhythmic flow”, something that is apparent throughout the album and which is well demonstrated here.

Hebert’s solo bass introduces another piece from “Another Time”, his own “Fez” which adds an appropriately North African ambience to the proceedings through the inflections of O’Gallagher’s alto and Eubanks’ trumpet. Both horn men deliver absorbing solos above the polyrhythmic chatter of Williams’ drums and the composer’s sturdy but always flexible bass, variously plucked, strummed and bowed.

The bassist also begins Williams’ “Lament”, a piece written in tribute to a former drum student whose life ended in drug addiction and tragedy. A lengthy, sometimes sombre solo bass leads into Eubanks’ trumpet feature, a kind of valedictory “last post” underscored by Williams’ cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles. O’Gallagher’s caustic alto then seems to mirror Williams’ anger at this unnecessary death as the leader’s powerful drumming drives the music on.

A new Williams tune, “Scrunge” (great title) is segued with “Search Me”, the opening track from the quartet’s studio album. Here Williams and Hebert introduce a kind of cerebral funkiness to the proceedings with O’Gallagher’s fluent but slightly acerbic alto riding high above. Eubanks is next to go but there’s also some impressive interplay between the horns plus the now customary musical conversations involving horns, bass and drums. Williams leads things subtly from behind the kit and the customary boundaries between “front” and “back” lines are consistently blurred throughout the album with the music all the better for it. O’Gallagher gets to reprise his earlier contribution with another barnstorming solo urged on by Williams at the drums. Something that particularly jumped out at me at the Birmingham shows was just how hard Williams can hit the drums, he’s a wonderfully sensitive accompanist and sideman but is capable of generating genuine raw power, particularly when leading his own groups. 

Eubanks’ “Slew Footed”, a piece that impressed in Birmingham, is little more than a cameo here and the album concludes with the quartet’s interpretation of “Dedicated To You” (Chaplin/Zaret/Cahn), their encore on the night. Eubanks’ pure toned but melancholy solo trumpet starts things off, later adding subtle blues inflections as he’s joined by Hebert’s rich bass undertow. O’Gallagher subsequently enters the proceedings, alternating the lead with Eubanks on a piece that places the emphasis on beauty and emotional impact and keeps things relatively simple.

Although there’s an unavoidable degree of overlap with “Another Time” “The Listener” offers a wealth of new material and fans who enjoyed the previous album will also wish to own this. For anybody who saw the group on their 2012 tour it’s a great souvenir and with over an hours worth of music, much of it previously unheard, the album constitutes good value for money. This is an excellent band and the musicianship is impeccable throughout. 

Williams is due to launch the album (released 1st June 2013) with two London shows featuring British musicians as follows;
 

Monday 20 May - The Oxford
Jeff Williams Quintet featuring Finn Peters - alto saxophone / flute, Josh Arcoleo - tenor saxophone,
Phil Robson - guitar & Sam Lasserson - bass
The Oxford, 256 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2AA / £5 on the door / 9pm / http://theoxfordjazz.com/

The Vortex Jazz Club
11 Gillett Square,
London N16 8AZ
Venue telephone: 020 7254 4097
Venue website: http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk
Tue 4 Jun | 8.30pm
£10
Jeff Williams’ UK Quintet
Finn Peters - alto saxophone and flute
Josh Arcoleo - tenor saxophone
Kit Downes - piano
Sam Lasserson - bass
Jeff Williams - drums and compositions


 


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