CD REVIEW: Jeff Williams – Outlier

Jeff Williams. Outlier
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4684. CD review by Jon Turney)

Drummer Jeff Williams has contributed to many fine recordings over four decades, and the first two sessions he led for London’s Whirlwind Recordings were a particular pleasure. Those featured his US band, a freewheeling pianoless quartet he has kept up as a now-UK resident player who maintains a presence in New York. This third release allows us to savour the British band Williams has worked with in the last few years. It’s a different feel from the quartet, who have a wonderfully loose, open approach, especially on 2013’s live set, The Listener. The presence of Phil Robson on guitar and recent recruit Kit Downes on piano gives most of these pieces, from the opener Outlier on, a denser soundscape. These players are far too subtle to crowd each other, though, and the result is recognisably a different facet of the same artist’s work. Here he brings together elements of music he’s experienced through an impressive career to make new compositions that inspire his cohorts.

So we have pieces inspired directly or indirectly by Joe Henderson (Outlier), and a long tribute to Hermeto Pascoal (Hermeto). There is a distinctly Monkish feel to the guitarless The Interloper, while the leader’s Fender Rhodes adds a touch of Bitches Brew to Dream Visitor, also as it builds reminiscent of the more electric portions of Dave Liebman’s classic Sweet Hands, which featured a young Williams in 1975.

Robson and Downes are on top form. Bassist Sam Lasserson is less prominent than John Herbert in the “New York” quartet, but works seamlessly with Williams’ effortlessly varied drumming. The revelation, though, is tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo. His tone seems a little darker than you hear on his own debut album a few years ago, or on a more recent session with John Law. He also deploys at more impassioned moments a grainier, more strongly vocalised timbre, than before. None of this impedes his flow: this is a young player coming into his own.

His sound is a key element in the combination of youth and experience in the band. That exchange between the generations complements the Anglo-US personnel – a distinction harder to draw now with Phil Robson’s recent move to New York, and William’s long-time American sax player John O’Gallagher relocating over here. At this point in jazz’s evolution, accidents of birth matter little. What’s important is that players make strong music together, and this fine group certainly do.

Outlier is released today

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. jonturney.co.uk.  Twitter: @jonWturney 

Jeff Williams explains the genesis of Outlier

Categories: miscellaneous

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