Drummer Jeff Williams Matches Good Players With The Right Tunes On 'Bloom'

May 30, 2019
Originally published on June 7, 2019 1:46 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Drummer and composer Jeff Williams has played with Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and other jazz musicians. He divides his time now between New York and London and leads bands in the U.S. and the U.K. Jeff Williams' new album is for a New York trio. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF WILLIAMS' "SCRUNGE FT. CARMEN STAAF & MICHAEL FORMANEK )

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: The tune is "Scrunge" by drummer Jeff Williams from the new trio CD "Bloom." The lineup of piano, bass and drums is one of those durable and familiar in jazz. Like umpteen other so-called piano trios, this one favors good tunes; loose, unconfining arrangements; and the occasional round robin to break up the solos.

One reason this trio sounds fresh is a young pianist just making her name - Carmen Staaf, who has chops, creativity and taste, and doesn't overplay. This is from her blues "New York Landing."

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF WILLIAMS' "NEW YORK LANDING FT. CARMEN STAAF & MICHAEL FORMANEK")

WHITEHEAD: Carmen Staaf on piano. On bass is Michael Formanek, who's been crossing paths with drummer Jeff Williams for decades. Formanek spent his own years in the trenches backing the likes of Stan Getz and pianist Fred Hersch. These days, the bassist's own groups delve into highly complex music, so it's good to hear Formanek in this breezier set.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF WILLIAMS' "SHORT TUNE FT. CARMEN STAAF & MICHAEL FORMANEK")

WHITEHEAD: Jeff Williams is the kind of drummer whose solo statements are so structurally clear and meticulous you can hear the melody in them. Driving a band, some jazz drummers lay back and swing on the ride cymbal. Jeff Williams gets that same swinging relaxation while darting all over the drum set, pushing and prodding. Mike Formanek's walking bass reinforces the propulsion on his tune "A Word Edgewise."

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF WILLIAMS' "A WORD EDGEWISE FT. CARMEN STAAF & MICHAEL FORMANEK")

WHITEHEAD: The compositions the players brought in point them in the right direction. The tunes have easy-to-follow contours, forward motion, setups and payoffs - features soloists can work with. That also goes for the ballads, which have little hooks and breath-like rhythms that carry over into the improvising. Once you have the right tunes, then all you need is really good players who mind the material and listen to each other and make good choices in the moment. Jeff Williams's album "Bloom" is the sound of that plan coming together.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF WILLIAMS' "NORTHWEST FT. CARMEN STAAF & MICHAEL FORMANEK")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and the Audio Beat. He reviewed the new CD "Bloom" by drummer Jeff Williams' trio.

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(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF WILLIAMS' "NORTHWEST FT. CARMEN STAAF & MICHAEL FORMANEK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.