By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Freedom Trane
Pianist and composer Jessica Williams really needs no introduction; she has been on the top rung of the jazz ladder for decades. She was another early starter — she began lessons at age 4 and was getting classical training at the Peabody Conservatory of Music at age 7 — and was playing with jazz icons while still in her teens. Her awards are numerous: three Grammy nominations, along with almost a dozen grants and fellowships. She also has an extensive discography that spans four decades.
Williams was born and raised in the eastern United States, and spent her early performance years there. She moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and now resides in Washington. She has long known and performed with bassist Dave Captein and drummer Mel Brown; they’re featured with her on this disc.
As its title implies, this album was inspired by tenor sax icon John Coltrane. Half the tracks are his; the rest, written by Williams, reflect the inspiration she received from his friendship.
Many Coltrane fans would describe him as a hard swinger — driving, raucous and frenetic at times — but that’s not how Williams remembers him. Her interpretations of his compositions deal more with their beauty. “Glorious” isn’t too strong a term for her handling of “Welcome”; “Naima” is another balladic masterpiece, and “Lonnie’s Lamenet” isn’t far behind. Only “Paul’s Pal” is a true swinger.
Williams’ compositions reflect more of Coltrane’s gentle side than the hard and swinging persona most folks associate with him. Whatever your own preference, Coltrane would have loved this album. So do I.