Consilience Productions
CD Picks

James Williams
(b. 3/8/51 - Memphis, TN  d. 7/20/04 - New York, NY )

Title: Alter Ego
Personnel: James Williams (piano), Bill Easley (woodwinds), Bill Pierce (tenor & soprano sax), Kevin Eubanks (guitar), Ray Drummond (bass), Tony Reedus (drums).
Recorded: 1984
Label: Sunnyside
Comments: Another of the "Memphis Gang" (members would include Harold Mabern, Charles Thomas, Donald Brown, Mulgrew Miller, Frank Strozier, and George Coleman - not to mention the fantastic Phineas Newborn, Jr. and Charles Lloyd), James' career was launched when he played with Art Blakey's band from 1977-81, although he had already played with Woody Shaw, Art Farmer, Clark Terry, and Joe Henderson by that time (to name only a few). His style of playing is drenched in the blues, as he swings his ass off at all times! A true master of the piano, James now leads his own groups here and abroad while at the same time directing the music program at William Patterson College.

On Alter Ego, five of the seven songs were composed by Williams, while the other two (including the memorable "Waltz for Monk") were contributed by Donald Brown. The exciting music on this CD sounds as fresh now (20 years later) as it did back then!

Title: Awesome!
Personnel: James Williams (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).
Recorded: 1997
Label: DIW
Comments: James made several outstanding recordings for Verve during the 1980s with groups that he each referred to as a "Magical Trio." On this 1997 session he is reunited with the two veterans who made up the best of the previous editions; the matchless bassist Ray Brown and outstanding drummer Elvin Jones accompany his always brilliant piano playing. His no holds barred approaches to "It's Alright With Me" and Mary Lou Williams' "Lonely Moments" are driving arrangements full of surprising twists, his jaunty striding take of "Give Me the Simple Life" is beautifully understated, and he adds a lush introduction to Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." Fueled by Jones' percussion, Williams adds a Latin kick to the old standard "Sweet and Lovely." The pianist can't resist (and shouldn't!) showing off his gospel roots with a swinging version of the spiritual "Go Tell It on the Mountain." This Japanese import is well worth the investment.
Title: Truth, Justice & The Blues
Personnel: James Williams (piano) & ICU: Billy Pierce (tenor sax & soprano sax), Steve Wilson (alto & soprano sax), Steve Kroon (percussion), John Lockwood & Christian McBride (bass), Yoron Israel (drums), Miles Griffith & Roger Holland (vocals).
Recorded: 1994
Label: Evidence
Comments: Truth, Justice and the Blues was a new project for James, featuring his new band, ICU, which brought in the vocals of Miles Griffith and Roger Holland. Essentially an album of acoustic post-bop, James incorporates elements of gospel, blues, and soul. The results are quite spiritual; some of the comparisons that immediately come to mind include Duke Ellington's more gospel-influenced material and the Horace Silver LPs that feature Andy Bey. All of the melodies were written by Williams, although Pamela Baskin-Watson provides most of the lyrics (including seldom heard lyrics for Alter Ego). That is, she writes lyrics for the songs that have lyrics — Griffith and Holland stick to wordless scatting on a few of the selections. If you're interested in really great music and hold Joe Williams, Marvin Gaye, Sister Clara Ward, and Jimmy Witherspoon in equally high regard — you'll find that Truth, Justice and the Blues is among Williams' finest accomplishments.

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