Album reviews

Gareth Williams – ‘Short Stories’

Gareth Williams – Short Stories

(Miles Music MM CD090. Album review by Peter Vacher

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Writing this just twenty-four hours after hearing Gareth Williams play in a local quintet session prompts one to try and pinpoint this pianist’s distinctive, almost feral response to the creative process. As ever, he was mercurial, restless even, often sitting back from the keyboard smiling and letting the action unfurl before jumping in with a series of astute harmonic substitutions. Then there was the occasional passing grimace as the chosen chord didn’t quite pan out, this often followed by an almost ferocious Tyner-like attack on the theme’s underlying structure. In short, Williams is a one-off with a fertile musical imagination who can take you in any number of directions at once.

All this and more is evident on his brilliant new trio recording. There’s intensity here, heart-on-the-sleeve emotion, depths to plumb and any number of influences to distil as Williams sets out to transform these ten originals and ‘two gracefully re-imagined standard songs’ in the words of booklet essayist John Fordham. As the pianist himself has it, ‘I see no reason why improvised music cannot embrace some of the flavours of other musical styles’. Thus the opening ‘Not Bossa’ with its calm, almost reverential opening and gradual surge, as Palle Danielsson joins in, the beginnings of a groove appearing with Martin France’s accents added to the mix, Williams concentrating on Evans-style richness ahead of the dénouement, bassist and drums having had their say. It’s the longest track on the album.

‘Unwritten Hymn’, with Chris Laurence in for Danielsson, is heavily chorded at first, Williams building in heat-of-the-moment fashion, before allowing Laurence to solo, and settling. ‘Derivatives’ sets out to swing and does, almost boppish in shape, France bustling and busy in support, Williams leading the charge. ‘One More Blues’, as seems to be the pattern here, opening in reflective fashion, Williams testing the temperature before setting off at a friendly lope, embellishing the theme and pushing its boundaries much as Tyner might have done. ‘Who Can I Turn To?’ is solo piano and a kind of classic guide to ‘to making the best use of the materials to hand’, as Artie Shaw once had it, exploring, probing, deconstructing, this evergreen melody peering briefly through the surrounding curtain of sound. Lovely. ‘Buster Keaton’ momentarily hints at ‘Down By the Riverside’ and then veers away, Williams playing chase with himself, each idea mooted and then cast aside, bass and drums along for the ride. And so it goes.

In a sense there’s everything here, with latterday stylistic concepts absorbed and nailed in place, early influences stripped away and reassembled, beauty often the objective. There’s even a Williams vocal on the short, solo version of ‘Too Young To Go Steady’ reminding this listener of earlier live encounters when William played guitar and sang. For now, though, it’s the piano that is uppermost, every harmonic reconsideration gem-like, Williams making the piano sing. If I were allocating a star rating, this would merit five stars and would be an end of year top ten list certainty. The music is evocative, often thoughtful and irresistibly creative. Bravo Gareth and hats off to Masterchord and their engineer Ronan Phelan for the sublime recorded sound. Short Stories offers a surfeit of pleasures: too many to describe really.

Short Stories (Miles Music MM CD 090): Gareth William (p, voc), Palle Danielsson, Chris Laurence (b), Martin France (d). Recorded 28-29 August 2019 at Masterchord, London.

LINK: Purchase Short Stories

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