June 2011 is the forty-year anniversary of Jeff Williams’ arrival in New York and the beginning of his professional career. Fresh from the Berklee College of Music, where he had studied with Alan Dawson, Jeff soon became immersed in the city’s burgeoning loft scene, playing informal sessions with Randy and Michael Brecker, John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, Marc Copland, Jan Hammer and other up-and-coming musicians of the era. One such occasion included Dave Holland, who was working with Stan Getz at the time. Dave’s recommendation provided Jeff’s first break in the form of steady employment with the Getz Quartet from 1972-74.
Coinciding with and following Getz, Jeff partnered with Dave Liebman to form the group Lookout Farm. From 1973-76 the band toured internationally, recorded albums for ECM and A&M, and was awarded Downbeat’s “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition”. (Fast forward: Lookout Farm’s February 2010 reunion at Birdland was among All About Jazz NY’s “Concerts of the Year”). In the intervening years Jeff has had lengthy associations with Lee Konitz and Joe Lovano, while also playing with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie and Paul Bley to Bill McHenry and Ethan Iverson. Jeff’s debut as a composer produced two CDs with his 1991-95 quintet that included Kevin Hays and Tim Ries. The latter, Jazzblues (Cathexis), received a four-star Downbeat review that included the encouraging comments, “The music is fresh and of today…Let’s hear more”.
So why wait so long to release another CD? “The nineties group had a band sound and sensibility that I haven’t found again until now”, Jeff explains. “While we didn’t get to perform as often as I would have liked back then (Jeff was touring with Joe Lovano at the time), I could write with the individual personalities in mind, which is what’s happening again. The other reason is that there is no scarcity of music. You need to have something to offer that adds to what’s out there, an inimitable take on things. It happens when there is a distinctive chemistry. When you find that, it’s time to record”.
In Duane Eubanks (trumpet), John O’Gallagher (alto saxophone) and John Hébert (bass), each a bandleader in his own right, Jeff has found a combination that has inspired new compositions and spirited performances in New York jazz clubs over the last two years, prompting Small’s Mitch Borden to declare after a rousing set there, “You’re breaking new ground”.
“It’s not my intention to try to play something “new” for newness sake”, replies Jeff. “In a sense it’s new because you’re playing it—no one else can be you. Your personality comes through in how you work with the elements of music, what choices you make. I want to reach people directly, engage them intellectually and emotionally, leave them with a lingering passage and a lasting feeling ”.
Another Time does not forsake the group’s adventurous nature. One of the title’s multiple connotations alludes to rhythm and pulse. Ranging from the swing of She Can’t Be A Spy to the loose interpretation of 9/8 in Fez, there is a wide breadth of rhythmic variation, ranging from the fundamental to the multi-metered. Strong melodies are in the forefront, evident also in the contributions of a composition each by the other band members. “I wanted all of us to be represented. Duane Eubanks has a special beauty in his playing that is also there in his writing, a vulnerable quality that goes right to the heart. John O’Gallagher has an exhilaratingly personal language and virtuosity that distinguishes his compositions and improvisations. And John Hébert, among the most favored of contemporary bassists, reliably supplies just the right ingredient at the precise moment of need. I had played with each musician in other contexts, but putting them together ranks as one of my better moves. Every performance is a revelation”.
Another Time also expresses the period that began in the middle of the last decade, following Jeff’s marriage to long-time UK resident and celebrated American novelist Lionel Shriver, of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame. With a second home in London, Jeff’s activities have multiplied to include UK projects involving Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Martin Speake, Bobo Stinson, Bill Frisell and numerous others. The straddling of two counties continues, while Another Time’s primary emphasis articulates Jeff’s current imperative of making time for the band heard here, and now. Photo of Jeff Williams by Richard Kaby.