Review: Jeff Williams Quartet

Jeff Williams
Photo credit: Andrew Cleyndert
Jeff Williams Quartet
(Green Note, LJF2011, November 18th 2011. Review by Jon Turney)

Away from the big halls on the second Friday of the festival, that paragon of drumming taste and style Jeff Williams chose the Green Note café in Camden Parkway to launch his excellent new CD, Another Time.

In a day that began with Julian Siegel and Liam Noble exploring the stately acoustic of St James’s Piccadilly at lunchtime, and took in Phil Bancroft’s At Home project in the early evening at the South Bank, this needed to be something special to grab the ear. It was.

After a beguiling opening set from violinist Olivia Moore, Williams offered a slightly oblique launch for his recording. That features his New York band, with Duane Eubanks on trumpet and John O’Gallagher on alto sax. The drummer, who spends most of his time in the UK these days, brought a different quartet into the Green Note’s small back room. Although they played the same tunes, the three Brits he chose gave the music a less freeboppish sound than the US line-up.

Tenor sax star-in-the-making Josh Arcoleo – graduated from the Royal Academy mere weeks ago but already keeping some impressive company – Phil Robson on guitar and bass man Sam Lasserson are equally impressive players. Their approach to the leader’s excellent compositions had a more head-and-solos feel, a little less loose in approach than the CD line-up. Doubtless they have spent less time with the music, and heads bent over manuscript paper indicated they needed the odd reminder. Still, they burned through the evening, responding to an audience crammed in shoulder to shoulder.

Robson unfolded a series of gripping guitar improvisations which gained intensity from being witnessed from about three feet away. Arcoleo was confidently inventive, dug into the tunes with enthusiasm and soloed with an engaging tenor-traditional swagger. Lasserson kept things cool, and had an impressive solo feature at the end.

And the leader was a marvel on the kit balanced precariously on the edge of the Green Note’s miniature bandstand (the cymbal stands in danger of toppling off when he let loose). Williams is a comprehensively skilled modern drummer, as happy implying the time as stating it, and constantly shifting timbres and textures. No solos to speak of, no grandstanding, just 40 years’ experience lightly worn, and a relaxed alertness which creates the feel that inspires everyone else. Altogether an out of the way gem of the festival: I doubt if there was anyone doing jazz better, anywhere this evening.

Green Note
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