This taut enterprise sits squarely in the postbop ballpark of mostly London-resident New York drummer/composer Jeff Williams, with its echoes of Monk, Miles and Ornette Coleman. But the pieces are robustly appealing and the improv – from a crack British band including pianist Kit Downes, guitarist Phil Robson and tenor saxist Josh Arcoleo – is even better. The set pulses with arresting original themes after a quiet start on the softly exhaled title track. Williams’s tom-toms boom through the snorty riffs of The Interloper, as Arcoleo expressively segues from dark mid-tones to falsetto laments. Dream Visitor follows Downes’s sweeping free-jazz fluency with vivid funk electronics, New and Old has a beautiful ballad intro from Downes and builds to a walking, 50s-Miles jazz groove, while Hermeto (dedicated to Hermeto Pascoal) features Robson at his most sleekly hip, and builds to a genuinely startling free-jazz climax. Outlier references the tradition, but with dynamism, not deference.
Drummer Jeff Williams is an American expatriate now residing in London, England. Following his formal drumming studies commencing in 1968 at Berklee College of Music, Williams became a seasoned veteran of the U.S. jazz scene, accompanying some of the biggest names in the business including Stan Getz, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach, Cedar Walton, Lee Konitz, Bill Evans, John Scofield, and Miroslav Vitous. Outlier is his third album for Whirlwind and he's assembled a great line-up of British jazz musicians for this date.
The opening title track maintains a plaintive trance-like modal mood throughout with deft interjections from Phil Robson on guitar, Kit Downes on piano and Josh Arcoleo on tenor saxophone. "The Interloper" is quirkier with a definite Monkish feel and appropriate block piano chords with occasional swirls of sound all underpinning Arcoleo's tenor, followed by solos from Downes and Sam Lasserson on bass. But then the mood changes with a comparatively heavier "Dream Visitor," Phil Robson's guitar work is very much to the fore here, most especially when treated with electronic effects, whilst drums and piano provide a powerful backdrop before the theme is taken over by the tenor. Almost at once the tempo slows dramatically whilst still maintaining the heavy feel with a repeated vamp on guitar and electric bass before returning to the original opening riff.
"Meeting A Stranger" is a relaxed ballad with leader Jeff Williams sensitively encouraging the momentum. Kit Downes and Phil Robson turn in fine solos here too. Downes introduces the breezy, medium tempo "New And Old" with solos from Lasserson, Downes and Arcoleo. "Hermeto," the longest track on the album, is Williams' paean to one of his heroes, Hermeto Pascoal. Whilst not imitating Pascoal's compositional style, it possesses its own unique attractiveness, particularly in its opening themes stated alternately by guitar and tenor. The closer, "Oddity" opening with a brief drum foray, is a breezy fast-paced number featuring some vibrant solos from the entire group.
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.
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.
Bebop Spoken Here
(Review by Russell)
Outlier is Jeff Williams’ third release as leader on the Whirlwind Recordings label. All of the compositions are by the bandleader. Williams is the one fifth American in this Anglo -American quintet. The four sidemen are in demand individuals leading bands or working in others’ outfits and stacking up recording credits along the way. This 2015 recording on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label is released next week with a clutch of gigs beginning on Sunday (March 6) at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.
Outlier, the eponymous opening track, simmers and swirls with Phil Robson’s guitar solo giving way to Kit Downes’ Fender Rhodes as Josh Arcoleo’s taut, writhing tenor rides on top of Williams’ constantly shifting cymbal work. Robson returns, Downes’ chords direct the ensemble with bassist Sam Lasserson right there.
Jeff Williams reveals The Interloper ‘Reminds me of Thelonious Monk.’ It is a danceable Pork Pie of a tune, without a doubt. The drummer’s forward motion, the pianist’s angular, swinging logic, Monk Lives!
Williams refers to rhythmic patterns, visual images and dream world inspirations. Dream Visitor,the composer suggests, owes something to electric Miles; Fender Rhodes feature, Lasserson plays electric bass but the tune takes on its own distinctive character. Williams makes candid personal statements in the CDs liner notes: Meeting a Stranger followed by New and Old are markedly different to the earlier pieces. Ballad-like, the former heard on the album Jazzblues, reworked on Outlier because, as the composer writes: they interpretit so beautifully, the latter number refers to his father’s illness and their relationship - new and old, child and father, the role of the carer, their changing roles.
Hermeto expresses Williams’ love of the music of Hermeto Pascoal. The drummer heard, then met the Brazilian in the 1980s (Pascoal toured Britain at around this time including a concert at Durham University). This tune is not an attempt to imitate his music; it’s more of a love letter. Great playing form the quintet on this one.
The set closer – Oddity – unleashes the bandleader. Seemed time for solo drums Williams writes, just for textural variation. Williams has assembled a talented band of musicians. It is to his credit that he has embraced their abilities making for an excellent recording.
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 The Hans Koller Quartet, Sextet and Big Band, Mike Gibbs Big Band, Nikki Iles, Kit Downes, Mike Fletcher, Olie Brice, Alex Bonney, Alex Merritt, Barry Green 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 July 2013 and appeared at the London Jazz Festival for four consecutive years.
"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."
Lee Konitz was one of the first iconic saxophonists I was fortunate to play with when I arrived in New York in the early 1970s. Lee heard me with Stan Getz and asked me to play with him at the Half Note, a thrill in itself. Over the years we have played in all sorts of situations and in many countries. I have also recorded with him on several occasions. In every case I learned more from him about the art of improvisation and the importance of sound than from anyone. He is a brave and true improvisor. First Meeting is the latest installment of our association, my longest lasting. Thanks to Michael Janisch for putting it together, and, along with Dan Tepfer, for creating a rhythm section up to the task of Lee's adventures. -Jeff Williams
In New York Jeff performs with his US Quartet featuring Duane Eubanks, John O'Gallagher and John Hébert The group toured the United Kingdom in May 2012 and recorded
"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