Jessica Williams: Bemsha Swing


Bemsha Swing



In the Key of Monk (Jazz Focus 029)

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Jessica Williams (piano).

Composed by Thelonious Monk and Denzil Best


Recorded: live at Steinway Concert Hall, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, May 31, 1997


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Those following Williams' career from the '80's to the late '90's were delighted when In the Key of Monk, her long-awaited live-in-concert tribute to Thelonious, was released in 1999. She had always been one of the most original interpreters of Monk's tunes, and, when so inspired, often interspersed elements of his style into performances of unrelated standards and her own compositions. In her liner notes, Williams wrote, "The truth is that a musician playing a Monk tune sounds like Monk because Monk tunes sound like Monk tunes. They're authentic, genuine distillations of Monk's musical point of view, and they inevitably affect the course of improvisation that any musician might take playing them...If you hear Monk in me at times, that's because he's a natural part of my musical make-up now."

"Bemsha Swing" was actually a collaboration between Monk and the usually uncredited Denzil Best. Williams initially plucks out the basic blues-oriented theme on the piano strings, before mixing in some choice key strokes. When she focuses exclusively on the keyboard, she uses a herky-jerky left-handed stride rhythm in conjunction with rapid-fire spiraling arpeggios for an enticing reinvention of Monk's tune. The pianist then refers back to the theme only to jump off into harmonically and rhythmically challenging and provocative contrapuntal dialogues. Williams' ability to create intricately woven opposing yet complementary lines simultaneously in each hand is an endless joy and wonder to hear. She departs as she entered—plucked strings heralding her return to Monk's melody as written.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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