Jeff Williams - Lifelike

Label: Whirlwind Recordings, 2018

Personnel – John O’Gallagher: alto saxophone; Josh Arcoleo: tenor saxophone; Gonçalo Marques: trumpet; Kit Downes: piano; Sam Lasserson: bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

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Experienced American drummer Jeff Williams, who worked with Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz, and Ted Curson, sports a deft rhythmic control that can make a simple tune sound brighter and invigorating. His new album, Lifelike, a feverish sextet session recorded live at Vortex Jazz Club in London, is a remarkable follow-up to Outlier (Whirlwind Records, 2016) and features a powerful frontline with saxophonists John O’Gallagher (alto) and Josh Arcoleo (tenor) plus guest Portuguese trumpeter Gonçalo Marques, and a skilled rhythm section composed of pianist Kit Downes, bassist Sam Lasserson, and himself on the drum set. Enlighten with freedom, the artists approach the tunes on their own terms within well-defined structures and song forms, proving that, in their case, merging post-bop and avant-garde jazz feels as natural breathing.

Their fresh story starts with the stimulating “Under The Radar”, a six-bar blues with a curious percussive treatment. Autonomous bass lines join the African pulse, bringing the necessary amount of groove while making a comfortable bed for the horn kicks and smooth piano maneuvers. The mood, evocative of the Andrew Hill quintet, stimulates Marques for a wonderful improvisation, which starts reflectively motivic and ends tempestuous. Downes responds to the trumpeter's attacks with discernment before embarking himself on a personal journey of creativity.

Also rhythmically rich and displaying a go-ahead melodic statement, “The Interloper” emanates the same type of energy, but more in the line of Old And New Dreams’ “Dewey’s Tune”. While Arcoleo opens the soloing section with a rollicking phrase that brings “Round Midnight” to mind, Williams, operating the drumsticks with precision, carefully tailors his actions to hold with O’Gallagher’s busy squalling alto, whose fluidity is disarming.

A bass pedal point locks the groove on the initially static “Dream Visitor”. After fire-breathing improvisations from trumpet, tenor and alto, the mood changes to colorful through a funky bass-drums flow that is a perfect vehicle for the horn interplay. 

Lament” is a beautiful composition from the 90's that cools down the impetuosity of the previous tunes in its earliest section. Introduced by a sensitive bass solo, charmingly brushed drums, and lyric pianism, the tune falls into a modal jazz that thrives with the dynamic vitality of the reedists. They invite us to a fervent finale that galvanizes the spirit and liberates. 

Borderline” displays a nearly three-minute tenor-over-drums flare-up in a fierce tonal exploration of sound and language. The elated melody has a strong African flavor, and the improvisations belong to Lasserson and Downes.

Following Marques’ “Cançao do Amolador”, a poetic declamation in the style of saxophonist Joe Farrell, the session ends with freebop license through “Double Life”, a swinging altercation fueled by racy phrases and exhilarating rhythmic impressions.

Tart yet never coarse, Lifelike is meant to be one of the hippest avant-garde jazz records of 2018; a coherent whole of tension-release, vitality, and drive. 

         Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tunes: 
01 - Under the Radar ► 03 - Dream Visitor ►04 – Lament