CD review: Jeff Williams

listenerThe Listener
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4633)

I didn’t get to see drummer Jeff Williams, performing material from his studio album Another View, as they stopped off just a couple of miles down the road from my home last year, so this live recording is a welcome chance to hear the sounds his quartet were creating on the tour. The CD was recorded at The Vortex and features his stateside band of alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher, trumpeter Duane Eubanks and bassist John Hébert, fresh from the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The tunes are mainly composed by Williams and if you’re looking for reference points, this isn’t too far from Ornette Coleman or Sonny Rollins territory.

The opener, Eubanks’ tune Beer and Water, springs into life featuring intertwining trumpet and sax with cool, polished, high-flying trumpet giving way to crystal-clear melodic alto and detailed, resonating, plucked bass. Quirky Borderline has a light touch with hints of an almost jokey south of the border feel which wouldn’t be out of place in Mexico City.

An understated blues, She Can’t Be A Spy follows, with a keening sax and great interplay between horn and bass before John Hébert’s quality original solo. Hébert also contributes the middle eastern-influenced tune Fez with Williams’ fluctuating drum patterns really motoring through the gears while O’Gallagher’s alto positively sparkles.

Lament begins with some portentous-sounding bass and sombre trumpet before Williams stokes up the embers of O’Gallagher’s wailing alto, evoking grief-filled distress.

Scrunge features some on-the-nail bass playing combining to great effect with Williams’ wonderfully precise drumming and Eubanks’ sonorous trumpeting moving into Search Me with some particularly stratospherically funky trumpet and Williams’ rhythms shifting like crazy. His immensely powerful technique is deployed with restraint and polyrhythmic virtuosity.

Another Eubanks composition, the brief but thrilling Slewfooted has the audience at The Vortex whooping, before an arrangement of the delicate 1930s’ ballad Dedicated to You completes the record on a blissful note.

So now I know what I missed: four disciplined players at the height of their abilities who really delve excitingly into the freer end of the spectrum while not straying too far from a very tight harmonious feel. The cool, poised, contemplative-looking Praying Mantis on the cover of the CD (Williams’ own photo) could be said to perfectly reflect the sound of its contents.

  • The Listener is offcially released on 4 June.

Categories: CD review

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