Live Review: Kate Williams Quartet, Bebop Club, Bristol, 5th October 2012
Review by Mike Collins, www.jazzyblogman.wordpress.com
It’s not often that you hear full on Bebop at the BeBop Club. Kate Williams launched into Celia, bop piano pioneer Bud Powell’s composition, at a blistering pace to end the first set, playing the melody in both hands with its flurry of notes, distinctive interval leaps and chromaticisms whilst Gareth Lockrane’s flute was completely in step. The modern edge to the quartet’s take on the classic was emphasised by the arranging; lots of rhythmic stabs from Oli Hayhurst on bass and Tristan Mailliot on drums catching stresses in the melody and the racing swing under the the solos propelled by broken phrases and skips from the bass. And the soloing was edge of the seat stuff especially from Gareth Lockrane on this one. He brandished just about every size of flute available throughout the evening but for this one he picked up the one with the fewest keys and smallest range to play possibly the most notes of the evening, each phrase drawing the ear onto the next at breakneck speed to be greeted by roars by the packed club (the most I’ve seen there for a while) and a cheer from my other pair of ears who clocked the quote from Charlie Parker’s Confirmation. Not every tune was raw bebop, but the writing and arranging of the leader drawing the most out of a fabulous band was a consistent feature and the language and feeling of bop was never far away albeit with that contemporary twist. Much use was made of catchy little rythmic figures to stitch sections of tunes together, frequently doubled by bass and Kate’s left hand on the piano, and some choice selections from other writers’ pads (Eliane Elias and Jason Rebello were two). There were plenty of originals, a new untitled composition in the second set with a gentle latin feel drew my favourite piano solo of the evening with with flowing lyrical lines and expressive embellishments wrapping themselves round the flute’s statement of the theme. This is a cracking quartet, each member threatening to steal the show with some thrilling moments but the strength of the writing meant the group sound was the enduring impression.
Smoke And Mirrors Reviews
Chris Ingham, Mojo **** (December 2012)
An enchanting intimate meeting of sensitive musical souls, Smoke And Mirrors finds veteran Scottish tenor man making sweet music with Kate Williams, daughter of guitarist John and one of the UK's most distinctive composer/pianists. Wellins' approach has something of the achingly beautiful sound and edgy romanticism of late-period Stan Getz, with his own wily twist making him the ideal foil for the left-field formalities of Williams. The musicians weave and dance and banter with such grace and elegance, the listener feels like an eavesdropper on a witty and warm conversation between lifelong friends, full of empathy, unspoken understanding and private jokes. Highlights include the Lennie Tristano-esque counterpoint of Minor Pennies, an uncommonly slow version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's If You Never Come To Me and the shimmering mystery of the title track.
Dave Gelly, The Observer (August 2012)
The sound - slightly foggy, with a slow, lazy vibrato - is unique. It has been part of Bobby Wellins throughout his long career, and it comes across beautifully in this set of duets for tenor saxophone and piano with Kate Williams. It's a difficult format, with not even a bass for a rhythmic safety net, but the rapport between them is so close that everything flows with easy assurance, particularly in their quirky joint composition, PS. And to discover how effectively two really good musicians can bring out the beauty in a simple melody, hear their version of the old standard Imagination.
John Fordham, The Guardian **** (July 2012)
The Scottish saxophonist Bobby Wellins and English pianist-composer Kate Williams sound made for each other in this collection of standard songs and originals, recorded in rehearsal and in concert at Halifax's Dean Clough arts centre last year. It is, of course, an intimate exploration of a familiar rulebook between a slow-burn saxist with leanings toward the 1950s cool school, and a quietly elegant Bill Evans-inflected pianist. But it's also about the best qualities of jazz, irrespective of style or fashion – about sharing, spontaneity, communication and surprise. Wellins's most famous recorded performance was his solo on Starless and Bible Black for Stan Tracey's Under Milk Wood suite. That unique and haunting tone – gruff yet hopeful – surfaces all over this set, from the first sparing sax phrases and coaxing piano figures of the title track. The standard While We Were Young is solemnly delicate, with Williams's classically influenced encouragement allowing Wellins to let purring, wide-spaced sounds just hang in the air. The original Minor Pennies is sinewy and boppish, the pianist's dreamy unaccompanied reverie What If has a Bill Evans fragility, and Antonio Carlos Jobim's If You Never Come to Me Again finds Wellins in his yearning, confiding element. It's an unpretentiously delightful encounter.
Bruce Lindsay, All About Jazz, June 2012
Although this is the first recording by the Wellins/Williams duo, they have worked together many times and their affinity towards each other is clear in these performances. They recorded this album on the 17th of November 2011 at the Crossley Gallery in Halifax, Yorkshire—an unusual venue but, on the evidence of this album, recorded by Andrew Cleyndert who coproduced with Williams, it's one that provided superb acoustics.
Williams' solo performance of her own "What If..." is graceful and affecting, but it's when she and Wellins perform together that this album reaches its musical heights. The opening bars of "Smoke And Mirrors," one of three jointly composed tunes on the album, set the standard: languid, relaxed interplay between tenor saxophone and piano that has the effortless ease that can only come from players in total command of their craft.
The duo's crowning glory is in its interpretation of two standards. On Antonio Carlos Jobim's "If You Never Come To Me," Wellins' tenor is to the fore, his reedy and warm tone perfectly suited to the romantic melody. For George Gershwin's "The Man I Love" Williams creates a gently swinging rhythm over which Wellins plays the well-known melody straight, with little embellishment; a masterful reminder that "less is more" is a wise philosophy.
It's quite possible that Wellins has never played an unnecessary note. Williams is also savvy enough to know that showy displays of quick-fire technique should never take precedence over the music. So Smoke And Mirrors is an outstandingly calm and calming recording; never threatening a sonic explosion—it doesn't need to—it just glows, giving out a warmth and a charm all its own.
Chris Ingham, Mojo **** (September 2011)
“Made Up is a striking summation and reflection of Kate Williams' singular gifts. With trio, quartet and quintet albums behind her, she stretches to a seven-piece for her fourth album and the expanded palette of sounds is a thrilling vehicle for her evolving and unusual musical imagination. She deftly exploits the timbral possibilities of Gareth Lockrane's flute, Julian Siegel's bass clarinet, Ben Somers' tenor saxophone and Steve Fishwick's trumpet on a series of witty, eccentric charts, full of enchanting compositional twists and fertile arrangement ideas. The set ranges from the almost comically quirky Climbing Up Falling Down and the elegiac Untitled Peace Piece to the twisted samba For Eliane and the epic title track. The playing is first-class throughout with drummer Tristan Mailliot particularly in tune with every nuance of Williams' tumbling invention."
Live Review of Made Up CD Launch:
**** Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, 7th October 2011
"To say that a musician exemplifies the phrase “more is less” risks making them seem puritanical, or just ungenerous. Pianist and composer Kate Williams is neither of those. She makes every note count, and yet the music emerges as rich and flavoursome as a fruit cake — as was shown by this gig to launch the new album Made Up with her Septet.
Everything we heard was composed by Williams, and much of the music’s relish had to do with her keen harmonic sense. Williams doesn’t make a habit of sitting on a repeating chord sequence, which is the lurking vice of much jazz composition these days.Her music is always heading somewhere purposefully, often via a louche chord sequence very reminiscent of Fifties cool jazz. When a repeating pattern does appear, it’s a temporary affair, strategically placed to wind up the tension, as in a fine number entitled Depiction.
These moments show how Williams likes to set a narrow emotional range, just to give herself the pleasure of breaking out of it. It’s an engaging trait, shown also in her shrewd way of fashioning introductions which launch off in one direction, but eventually make a landfall in quite a different territory - as in the quietly expressive quartet number Pelagic.
All this was projected in an enticing range of colours. Ranged across the front of the 606 stage were two reeds players, Ben Somers and Julian Siegel, plus flautist Gareth Lockrane and trumpeter Steve Fishwick. Between them they played nine instruments, and the varieties of colours Williams coaxed from them, from edgy muted trumpet to liquid bass flute, was astonishing.
Everyone shone in their own fashion. Two players that stick in my memory are Steve Fishwick, shapely and floating on flugelhorn, and Julian Siegel making witty play with the possibilities of just one note. And of course Kate Williams herself, darting from Fender Rhodes to piano, smiling at the infectious energy of it all, but never losing her sense of focus."
Chris Parker, London Jazz, October 2011
'Lucid and inventive' are the adjectives applied by the late Humphrey Lyttelton to the pianist/composer Kate Williams, and this, her fourth – and most ambitious – album to date (previous outings have involved a trio, quartet and quintet; this features a septet on six of its eight tracks) might have been specially made to embody these qualities.
Unshowy, subtle, musicianly, Williams has always inhabited the area of the music previously occupied by the likes of John Lewis, or to come closer to home and change instruments, Kenny Wheeler, her music relying for its considerable power not on climactic grandstanding but on elegance and grace, just as her own playing is notable for its delicate but none the less effective rhythmic displacements rather than sizzling solo runs played at blistering speed.
Here, she has skilfully assembled a band of like minds – Gareth Lockrane (flutes), trumpeter Steve Fishwick, reeds players Ben Somers and Julian Siegel – to supplement her regular rhythm section, bassist Jeremy Brown (replaced by Oli Hayhurst on a couple of tracks) and drummer Tristan Mailliot and they negotiate her pleasingly tricksy themes (and the one non-original, Eliane Elias's 'One Side of You') with stylish brio. Cogent, lively and insinuatingly memorable, Made Up provides, in spades, further evidence of a considerable composing (and bandleading) talent.
Humphrey Lyttleton, BBC Radio 2
“ A superbly lucid and inventive pianist and composer.”
Claire Martin, BBC Radio 3
“I think we’re going to hear far more of Kate Williams in the future.”
Peter Vacher, Jazz UK, April 2008
“Pianist-composer Williams is quietly compiling a discography of genuine worth and consequence. This is her working quintet with Canadian tenor-saxophonist Steve Kaldestad, alongside Gareth Lockrane and his array of flutes. They’re backed by the resourceful pairing of bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Tristan Mailliot on a series of Williams originals (bar one standard). ‘Elements of Five’ cleverly tinkers with structure and ingeniously changes tempo and mood around Williams’ lyrical piano. The whole album is infused with a kind of laid-back elegance, and the remarkable Lockrane is virtuosic with his alto flute on ‘Moon and Sand’ (in duo with Williams), while Kaldestad is happy to dig in with vigour on the perkier uptempo features.”
Peter Quinn, Jazzwise, July 2008:
“This fourth album from pianist/composer Kate Williams is the first to feature her new quintet, and quite a band it is too. The singular talents gathered here demonstrate complete empathy with the leader’s circuitous narratives, their nuanced approach handling the trickiest time changes with practised ease. Williams certainly makes the most of her expanded sound palette – her previous three releases were either quartet or trio settings – with the Lockrane/Kaldestad front line opening up all kinds of new contrapuntal possibilities. These are most clearly evidenced in the harmonised melodic lines of the propulsively rhythmic opener ‘Elements of Five’, the angular ‘Chapter 34’ and the bracing ‘Something About April’. If ‘Silhouette’ occupies the same inward-looking, hymnal quality so beloved of Abdullah Ibrahim, Lockrane’s multitracked flutes heard at the opening of the title track brings a Gil Evans-type luxuriance to proceedings. Aside from her own clarity of articulation, assured comping skills and rock-solid rhythmic feel, The Embrace vividly conveys Williams’ fecund imagination and compositional acuity.”
Chris Parker, 2007:
“Kate Williams is not only one of the subtlest pianists currently operating in the UK… but she is also, as the material on this fine quintet album demonstrates, a highly skilled composer of immediately appealing but absorbing themes.”
Chris Parker, March 2006:
‘You could have heard the proverbial pin drop while Williams spun solos packed with dynamic and textural nuance from her melodic, gently lyrical original material, interspersing it with intriguing visits to modern jazz classics by the likes of Thelonious Monk. A small triumph, not only for Williams and her hair-trigger-accurate rhythm section (lithe bassist Jeremy Brown and brisk drummer Tristan Mailliot), but also for the aforementioned Vortex Steinway, which positively sang under her fingers.’
Chris Parker, February 2006:
'For her third album, Dankworth-award-winning pianist Kate Williams has recorded eight originals and a couple of jazz classics (Ellington/Strayhorn’s ‘Day Dream’ and ‘Monk’s Dream’) with an alert, responsive rhythm section: bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Tristan Mailliot. Although loosely themed around both its overall and individual titles (‘The Scenic Route’ an appropriately meandering theme, ‘Water’s Edge’ containing suitably ‘lapping’ piano sounds, etc.) the album is a richly varied programme. Williams is an unshowy, subtle player, relying on displacements of rhythmic emphasis rather than dazzling runs to make her musical points, but her soloing is none the less cogent and powerful for that, and her themes, ranging from the overtly lyrical to the tastefully percussive, are immediately memorable, intensely melodic yet complex enough to provide absorbing bases for lively trio interaction. Admirably unfussy, impeccably performed, this is a fine trio album from a pianist/composer who should be better known.'
Peter Vacher , February 2006:
Williams has found her voice as both composer and player. For this, her third CD, the London-based pianist has chosen again to trust her own judgment as far as the material is concerned and produced the best CD of her career so to date. I’ve played it a lot and can commend it for its range and thoughtful quality.There are Monkian moments and more than a hint of Bill Evans’s gliding momentum but mostly what you hear is from Williams herself. She’s a serious player, and I mean that as a compliment, her musings complemented by the polished support of Brown and Mailliot who know when to put their collective foot down or back off. Williams likes catchy motifs, as on ‘Disparity’, with its opening riff and sudden shifts of mood and texture. ‘I’m Still Awake’ is a springy groover, harmonically canny, with a Thelonious twist, the improvisation spare yet swingy, with Maillot and Brown purring along in pursuit. With ten pieces, eight by Williams herself, plus ‘Day Dream’ by Duke and ‘Monk’s Dream’, there’s plenty here to digest, clever voicings at every turn, the musicmostly concise yet potent too.
“Pianist Kate Williams writes robustly and fashions clean, cool improvised lines of cerebral discernment, evoking Tristano and Jarrett… ‘Looking Out’ further displays the pianist’s cerebral and quirky imagination in both composition and improvisation. On an instrument where many players are difficult to distinguish from each other, here is a genuine talent to watch.”