Nairn Jazz: Jessica Williams (1995)

Published in The Herald, March 6, 1995

Jessica Williams, Brodie Countryfare, Nairn

Jessica Williams is like no other jazz pianist. It’s not just that she’s female, and there are so few prominent women jazz instrumentalists. Nor is it that she’s extremely tall (the stool was adjusted to its lowest level before she began). Rather, it’s the absolute unpredictablity of her playing.

A Williams audience is not allowed to be complacent. Recognising the tune does not mean you can settle back and stop thinking. Quite the opposite: this is edge-of-the-seat stuff which demands concentration. It is utterly impossible to second-guess how this first-rate technician is going to manipulate the melody and swing the moods.

The first set of her concert on Saturday night was dazzling, both musically and visually: her huge, elastic hands produced crashing, clashing chords one minute; and finicky flurries of triplets the next. What was missing in the early stages, however, was a sense of genuine emotion: the tunes, though extremely impressive, failed to bridge the emotional gap between performer and listener.

Clearly more relaxed after a near-euphoric reaction to the first half, William loosened up, lightened up, and warmed up (literally — she was suffering from the cold weather) with Dave Brubeck’s Summer Song — the kind of ballad that’s so haunting you try to remember it all the way home.

Nice Work If You Can Get It revealed a sense of playfulness in her pianistics: there were the Wallerish strides on the one hand and the Monk-like discords on the other, not to mention the use of the strings. But the best was saved for encore-time: a sumptuous and supremely moving interpretation of My One And Only Love, played latterly in the style of a hymn.

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