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JAZZ REVIEWS : Seductive Playing Marred by West Coast Inhospitality

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

James Williams may be one of the most visible pianists on the New York scene but he had a hard time gaining respect from a Southern California crowd Tuesday at Spaghettini.

But don’t blame the 43-year-old Williams. His smashing performance, in tandem with bassist Richard Reid, showed why he is among the top-ranking keyboardists of the jazz world’s middle generation.

Despite an unruly crowd intent on chatter and giggles, Williams delivered an involved, intelligent first set that moved easily through a variety of moods and styles, often within the same tune. Those that were there to hear the music, were rewarded with Williams’ fine sense of detail and his captivating sense of narrative. And despite the smart nature of his play, there was nothing cold or distant about it.

Instead, Williams seduced listeners by employing deeply felt soul and gospel touches at different times during his improvisations, a reflection of his Memphis roots. During Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave,” he extracted a host of variations from the familiar theme, revolving through blues, boogie and samba rhythms before closing his solo with warm, chordally rich phrases.

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Bassist Reid, who’s known Williams since the mid-'70s when both played in Boston with drummer Alan Dawson, stood as a second voice, bringing his own sense of development and story line to the proceedings. Left to play alone, he worked in a melodic, often inquisitive style that featured dance-like figures and fast-paced runs up and down the neck of his upright.

* James Williams appears with bassist Richard Reid and drummer Billy Higgins Friday-Saturday at the Club Brasserie, Bel Age Hotel, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood; 9 and 11 p.m. Information: (310) 854-1111.


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