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Gareth Williams

Short Stories

by Ian Mann

September 27, 2022


It’s good to see Williams releasing an album again and even more refreshing to find that it’s an acoustic piano trio set recorded with such exalted company and to such high technical standards.

Gareth Williams

“Short Stories”

(Miles Music MMCD090)

Gareth Williams – piano, vocals, Martin France – Drums, Palle Danielsson – double bass, Chris Laurence – double bass

Pianist, keyboard player and occasional guitarist and vocalist Gareth Williams is one of the unsung heroes of the UK music scene. The Welsh born musician is a brilliant and inspired jazz piano soloist, capable of galvanising the music of any band in which he appears.

John Fordham’s liner notes for “Short Stories” inform us that Williams has worked with the American saxophonists Pee Wee Ellis, George Coleman and James Moody and with the great British vocalist Claire Martin. Meanwhile the Jazzmann web pages have documented his playing in live performances as the leader of his own trio, in a duo with guitarist Jim Mullen and in bands variously led by bassist Laurence Cottle and saxophonist Art Themen. Others that he has worked with include blues / jazz vocalist Zoe Schwarz and the band Us3.

Welsh born Williams has been influenced by a broad range of music, not all of it jazz. “My love of music stems from an emotional response that isn’t genre specific” he explains in his own album notes, adding “I try to reach that intensity of emotion through the jazz idiom but I see no reason why improvised music cannot embrace some of the flavours of other musical styles”.

Williams’ influences include Welsh folk music and hymns plus classical lieder in addition to jazz pianists such as Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and the UK’s own John Taylor. One of the Williams live performances that I have enjoyed in the past was at the 2015 Swansea International Jazz Festival which saw him paying homage to the late, great Bill Evans as the leader of a trio featuring British jazz royalty Dave Green (double bass) and Steve Brown (drums).

Williams is a musician with an international reputation and on this recording he is joined by the great Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson, a musician best known for his work with Keith Jarrett and also with John Taylor. Danielsson appears on four of the album’s twelve tracks, two of which are solo performances by Williams, and elsewhere his place is taken by the equally great British bass player Chris Laurence. The drum chair is filled by Martin France, ex Loose Tube and a prolific collaborator whose playing has graced innumerable recordings.

“Short Stories” was recorded over the course of two days in August 2019 but the pandemic delayed its release until July 2022. Ten of the tracks are original compositions by Williams with the programme completed by two ‘standards’ which I’ll turn to later. The album was recorded at the Masterchord studio in London with Williams playing a brand new Steinway supplied by the studio. Williams acts as co-producer with mixing engineer Peter Watts and the recorded sound is sublime throughout. A heads up too for recording engineer Ronan Phelan.

The album opens with “Not Bossa”, which commences with a diaphanous passage of unaccompanied piano from Williams. He’s subsequently joined by Danielsson and France as the music continues to develop, Williams’ own playing displaying an element of Bill Evans-like lyricism and inventiveness. The contributions of Danielsson and France are finely nuanced and exquisitely detailed and both enjoy their own features as the music unfolds slowly and organically over the course of seven plus minutes, making it the album’s lengthiest track - by a short head.

Laurence replaces Danielsson for the stately “Unwritten Hymn”, the title perhaps a reference to the church music of Williams’ youth. Indeed there’s a certain ‘hymn like’ quality about much of the music on this recording, and certainly an inspired lyricism that also informs this track. Again the relationship between piano, bass and drums is highly interactive and sympathetic, one can almost hear the musicians thinking. Laurence comes to the fore with a melodic bass solo that is very much in the spirit of the piece as a whole.

However for all the lyricism displayed thus far previous live sightings of Williams have revealed that he can be a fiery soloist and he increases the pace on “Derivatives”, another piece to feature the playing of Laurence. Williams’ playing loses none of its fluency as the trio up the tempo with Laurence and France swinging furiously and the latter coming to the fore with a spectacularly animated drum feature. The trio certainly make the sparks fly here.

I can only assume that “Mr JT” is Williams’ tribute to John Taylor, who sadly passed away in 2015, but whose musical legacy lives on. Danielsson, who was once part of Taylor’s trio, returns here and although the piece begins in sombre fashion with a dialogue between piano and bass there is still much of the flowing, melodic lyricism that distinguished Taylor’s best work.  France was also part of the trio that recorded such classic Taylor albums as “Angel of the Presence” so it’s only right that he appears here too. Williams’ classically honed lightness of touch at the keyboard resembles Taylor’s own and it’s also totally appropriate that both Danielsson and France should enjoy extended features on this tribute to their former colleague, one of the greatest jazz musicians the UK has produced.

The first of two solo performances is Williams’ thoughtful solo piano interpretation of the song “Who Can I Turn To?”, co-written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse.

“Buster Keaton” exhibits an appropriate level of playfulness on a piece that strikes me as coming out of the ‘post Loose Tubes’  school of British jazz pioneered by such musicians as Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart and Julian Arguelles – and of course their constant accomplice Martin France. With Danielsson still on board Williams’ composition combines whimsicality with lyricism and pathos.

Laurence returns on “Islands of Men”, which opens with a passage of meditative solo piano before unfolding to embrace a more expansive lyricism with the bassist’s melodic playing occupying a significant role. Williams subsequently stretches out at the piano, skilfully supported by the rhythm team.

“Another Waltz”, also featuring Laurence, is the album’s second longest track at just over seven minutes. The running time allows the trio plenty of scope to develop their ideas in a sensitive and interactive performance imbued with much subtlety. Laurence gets the opportunity to stretch out as a soloist and France delivers a finely nuanced performance full of subtle accents and delicate embellishments.

“One More Blues” is another piece with a literal title and the trio up the energy levels once more, improvising in more up-tempo fashion with Williams’ lightning keyboard runs particularly dazzling. Laurence and France offer suitably brisk support with both also featuring as soloists.

Danielsson eventually returns on “For Palle”, a tune written specifically for him and on which his playing is extensively featured. Danielsson combines a warm, woody tone with a strong melodic sensibility and Williams allows him plenty of room in which to express himself, before eventually taking over at the piano and soloing with a flowing lyricism. Following his dynamic performance on the previous track France is subtlety personified during Danielsson’s solo but a more assertive presence as Williams’ solo begins to gather momentum.

“Short Story”, effectively the title track, restores Laurence to the bass chair and both he and Williams deliver delightfully melodic and lyrical solos as they improvise around one of the pianist’s most beautiful compositions.

The album concludes with a solo voice and piano version of the McHugh / Adamson song “Too Young To Go Steady”. Williams has previously performed solo guitar / vocal shows so this performance represents a brief window into another aspect of his talent. His vocal performance on this piece has elicited comparisons with the great American jazz singer Mark Murphy.

Apparently “Short Stories” is Williams’ first album release under his own name since “Shock!”, by his electric ‘Power Trio’ featuring Laurence Cottle and drummer Ian Thomas, appeared on Linn Records way back in 2009.

It’s good to see him releasing an album again and even more refreshing to find that it’s an acoustic piano trio set recorded with such exalted company and to such high technical standards. The quality of the playing is matched by Williams’ writing which provides a strong platform for the pianist and his colleagues to build on. Let’s hope he’s able to support the album release with some live performances, presumably with the British members of the line up. Williams has never been away but nevertheless this recording still feels like a ‘welcome back’.


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