Jessica Williams: Mr. Syms


Mr. Syms



Gratitude (Candid 79721)

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Jessica Williams (piano).

Composed by John Coltrane


Recorded: Portland, OR, June 20-21, 1995


Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Williams has often remarked that her piano style is more influenced by saxophonists than by other pianists, usually singling out Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, and John Coltrane. She has recorded a number of Coltrane compositions, including "Transition," "Dear Lord," “Equinox," and "Mr. Syms." The latter is a 48-bar minor blues with a bridge that appeared on Coltrane Plays the Blues. Coltrane mainly delivers the theme to open and close the track, with McCoy Tyner as the main soloist, so in this case Williams is as much taking her cue from Tyner as from Trane.

Tyner's solo has a dark, lower register rumble that contrasts starkly with Coltrane's soprano, and Williams' solo maintains a similarly dark hue for most of the way. Williams' sound reverberates due to her reliance on the piano's middle pedal (as she indicates in her liner notes). Her fluttering runs and bluesy riffs compete at times against the resulting heavily pronounced left-hand chords. The pianist's playing is initially very indebted to Tyner, but the meatiest part of her improv is distinctively Williams—rapid, staccato extended lines accentuated by a persistent stride-like left hand. There's also an exploratory looseness about the performance as a whole, as she leaves Tyner territory near the end of her solo for some adroitly executed two-handed blues piano that segues back to a fervent review of the theme. This concluding section is warmly reminiscent of Mary Lou Williams at her spirited best.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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