Review: Jeff Williams Quartet at Cheltenham

Jeff Williams Quartet
(Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 6th May 2012. Review by Jon Turney)

The practicalities of a musical life on both sides of the Atlantic meant that drummer Jeff Williams launched his latest CD Another Time at the London Jazz festival last year with a British band. It was a great gig (REVIEW HERE) with the music – many sheets draped over music stands that night – refracted through the personalities of the players.

The CD, though, features Williams’ New York band, and Cheltenham offered a welcome chance to hear them in action. It would be an injustice to the November band to say this set was better. Williams chooses well wherever he is, and the best of British rising to the challenge of sometimes quite complex new music gave that winter evening quite a charge. Still, the comparison was fascinating.

Not surprisingly, this quartet – John O’Gallagher on alto, Duane Eubanks on glowing-toned trumpet, John Hébert on bass – respond differently to music written by and for these players. They inhabit the tunes more naturally, seem to have all the time in the world even at faster tempos, and like to acknowledge small good deeds in each other’s playing with musicianly smiles.

And there were good deeds aplenty. Both horn players can seem laid back, but they also pack a punch – qualities shared by Williams, whose loose-limbed flicker around the kit generates a continually propulsive commentary. The overall sound reminded of Andrew Cyrille’s late 1970s band, another ensemble energised by a drummer of great power who deploys it with enormous subtlety.

Highlights included O’Gallagher’s lovely long-lined ballad Go Where You’re Watching, the descending figures of Hébert’s mid-Eastern inflected Fez, and Williams’ ruefully soulful She Can’t be a Spy. And in a band of such equal partners, everyone gets composer’s space, so Eubanks’ Purple, Blue and Red was memorable for trumpet soloing taking off from his sweetly melancholy theme.

Before the Festival, I was afraid that 90 minutes of Bill Frisell immediately beforehand would make this one harder to hear properly. It also seemed an unmissable set. I went with the latter hunch. It was the right one.

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2 replies »

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  2. Thanks for this review. Jeff Williams is a much under-estimated drummer and band leader and I am puzzled as to why he does not get wider recognition. The quartet is a great band inhabiting its own territory somewhere between straightahead and free and their material is excellent with contributions from all band members

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