The absence of a piano in a drummer-led quartet is certain to shape the music, but for able and compatible musicians the format opens up an inexhaustible range of expressive possibilities. The Jeff Williams quartet was certainly up to the challenge. Their two sets were fiery, passionate displays, and a study of the way in which a well-rehearsed and closely-knit group enables rather than constrains inventive soloing.
What was notable from the start and sustained throughout was that there was no ‘front line’: although alto, tenor, bass and drums played in various configurations and sequences as well as simultaneously, the sheer power of the performances conveyed a musical ‘united front’—a band of equals, but equal on a level that would be difficult to match anywhere. Their technical finesse never became detached from the music, but it would have been difficult to miss.
Jeff Williams’ drumming sustained the music—much of it up-tempo—as well propelling it along, with constantly shifting, complex rhythmic patterns and cleverly executed accents. He and bass player Sam Lasserson seemed to be of one mind. John O’Gallagher (alto) and Josh Arcoleo (tenor) both turned in impassioned performances. For all of the hard-driving character of much of the music and the saxophone improvisations, there were still hushed spaces in which one of the horns plus drums or bass would retreat to an intensely lyrical exchange, slowly bring the music back to the boil. There was even a sideways, supercharged take on a Capypso, with some lovely soloing and a few humorous exchanges.
There was nothing ‘cool’ about this jazz; nothing that didn’t require advanced technique and keen engagement; and for the audience, little not to marvel over.
"A top notch British band plays superbly throughout with Williams' intelligent but approachable compositions giving them plenty to get their teeth into." **** -Ian Mann The Jazzmann.com http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jeff-williams-outlier/ (for complete review click above link) "Outlier has a classy, lived-in feel that never glosses over this band's tough, restless spirit in performance." -Jazzwise ****-Jazz Journal "Powerful, energetic and unsettling jazz with a lot of warmth and soul at its core." -Jazz Podium
"This is a very good album which benefits from Williams' imaginative compositions and the ensemble's excellent musicianship. It's also a grower, so play frequently for a lasting effect." -All About Jazz "The pieces are robustly appealing and the improv – from a crack British band -- is even better. The set pulses with arresting original themes...Outlier references the tradition, but with dynamism, not deference." -The Guardian
"Williams has assembled a talented band of musicians. It is to his credit that he has embraced their abilities making for an excellent recording." -Bebop Spoken Here
London Jazz News
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.
Veteran drummer Jeff Williams is the driving force behind Valence, an album of originals performed with bassist Sam Lasserson and John O’Gallagher, the former from his London-based group, the latter from his North American quartet. Recorded live in Switzerland, the CD lacks the fidelity of a studio date but more than compensates with high-energy performances. “Borderline”, the calypso-esque opener with a repetitive bluesy theme, shows the group’s taste for chromatic melodic architecture. “Skullduggery”, another repetitive theme, features a beautifully constructed alto solo capped by Williams’ tasteful cross-sticked coda. Lasserman breaks up the beats of “Under the Radar” with subtle unorthodox accents. “Go Where You’re Watching” (O’Gallagher’s sole contribution) begins with a four-and-a-half-minute alto soliloquy that sustains considerable interest without forcing its hand, followed by an equally compelling bass feature. Williams plays with brio throughout, but is especially edgy on “The Messenger”, where he seems to clip his phrases and delivers an extended thematic solo. “Double Life”, the final track, contains another rigorously structured, through- phrased solo by O’Gallagher, followed by a bass solo that sounds as if Lasserson is having a conversation with himself, then a double-cadenza finish. To judge from the band’s laughter, it was a fun gig.
In a career spanning four decades drummer Jeff Williams' musical associates have included Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman and Lookout Farm, Joe Lovano, Paul Bley, Bill McHenry, Ethan Iverson, Tony Malaby, and many more. During the 1990's Jeff performed with his own quintet and released two CDs of original compositions: Coalescence (SteepleChase) and Jazzblues (Cathexis). Since 2007 he has been based both in New York and London. In the UK Jeff has performed with Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, and has toured with McHenry, Konitz, the Phil Robson/Dave Liebman Quartet, and Martin Speake's Change of Heart (with Bobo Stenson). Jeff has also collaborated with Mike Gibbs Big Band, Nikki Iles, Kit Downes, Olie Brice, Alex Bonney, Barry Green, Tony Malaby and more. Jeff's UK Quintet with Finn Peters-alto saxophone and flute, Josh Arcoleo-tenor saxophone, Phil Robson-guitar and Sam Lasserson-bass performed at the Festival Amazonas Jazz in Manaus, Brazil in 2013 and appeared at the London Jazz Festival for four consecutive years. Jeff's current lineup in the UK includes John O'Gallagher-alto saxophone, Josh Arcoleo-tenor saxophone, Kit Downes-piano and Sam Lasserson-bass. The group has been on tour in 2016-17 in support of the latest album Outlier while Jeff also performed in trio with Leo Genovese and Esperanza Spalding, in groups led by Mike Fletcher, Alex Bonney, Alex Merritt, Ethan Iverson, Hans Koller and Martin Speake, in addition to touring the UK extensively with the Olie Brice Quintet. Jeff's new live album is in the works for the coming year.
"This had been an excellent show, occasionally poignant but more often highly exciting with some exceptional playing all round. However it was Williams intelligent writing and perceptive prompting from behind the kit that set the tone for the performance."
"Human scale live recording Williams superbly Motian-like in one of the most considered albums of the year."
The Listener is a logical extension of its two-years-older studio sibling, but it's not the same; these four men have extended the boundaries of their own work and strengthened the connective tissue that binds them. Williams' work with this quartet is special and deserves continued exploration." -All About Jazz
"The Listener's cutting-edge expertise and unwavering emphasis on improvisation makes this thoroughly contemporary music...It's a set of hot-and-cool Ornette Colemanesque themes, hip postbop and slow-burn reflections performed, on this live recording, by Williams' New York quartet." 4 Stars, The Guardian
"Music that seethes with intelligence, creativity and zest. This is a glorious record, varied, full of subtleties and surprises. Remember those days when you were in a record shop and your heard a track that was a must-buy and you couldn't rest until you had the CD. The Listener is like that." Jazz Views
"Jeff Williams has honed a sound that seamlessly blends a sinewy, propulsive rhythmic sense with a masterful appreciation of space and atmosphere. On Another Time, Williams leads a remarkable group through a series of original compositions that are prefect vehicles for the veteran drummer's singular approach, as well as the quartet's consistently inspired improvisations." --Matthew Miller The New York City Jazz Record
**** "...The ease of movement between ambiguously floating rhythms and snappy polyrhythmic swing is seductive...these elegantly intricate deliberations make for absorbing contemporary jazz." --John Fordham The Guardian