Jessica Williams, Orgonomic Music


Sundazed Music, March 2024


The dazzling, Baltimore-raised pianist Jessica Williams moved to Seattle from California in 1991, and while she stayed only a couple of years, she returned to the Northwest often and spent her last years in Yakima, where she died of cancer in 2022. When she first arrived, Williams was already highly respected for albums such as Orgonomic Music (Clean Cuts, 1979), which has been reissued in vinyl, CD and in digital format by Sundazed Music.

The album features a septet, unusual for an artist who would become known chiefly for trio and solo recordings, and in the experimental spirit of its time, features two bass players, one electric, one acoustic. The tunes, mostly by Williams, are wildly energetic, with jagged, telegraphic melodies for tenor saxophone, trumpet, and guitar that push at the edges of free jazz. There are also some lyrical pieces, such as a gorgeous, heart-on-sleeve solo piano version of the standard “I’ll Always Be In Love With You.” The album’s tumultuous emotions speak to its inspiration, psychologist Wilhelm Reich, who believed that sexual repression in youth led to depression and violence and that cosmic energy could be accumulated by sitting in an “orgone box,” background that helps to illuminate the esoteric track titles. On the spoken word piece, “Orgone,” Williams invokes Reich’s philosophy directly.

The way Williams cracked each note on the keyboard with discrete precision, no matter how fast she was playing – and she played fast! – was reminiscent of the classical concert pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Combined with her love of Thelonious Monk and a bluesy streak, this was a distinctive combination. The album kicks off in a deep, Elvin-Coltrane groove on “The Weapon of Truth,” with strong solos by Williams, San Franciso stalwarts Eddie Henderson (trumpet) and Jim Grantham (tenor saxophone) and drummer Dave Tucker, whom Williams knew in Baltimore. The haunting “Power Of Love” features one of several attractively atonal, single-note guitar solos by Sacramento legend Henry Robinett. Williams injects Coltrane’s “Dear Lord” with warmth and fire, with acoustic bassist Richard Saunders walking and Williams offering passages both tender and rhapsodic.

On the jauntily staccato “Up The Entropy Slope,” Williams breaks up lickety-split runs with sudden, odd groupings; the tempo rises to scribbling warp speed on the celebratory “Experiment XX,” with overblowing tenor and a tutti stutter. “All Strange,” previously unissued, is also jaunty but with a delightfully swinging, straight-ahead feel. Electric bassist Kim Stone’s “Krieselwelle” gets the most out of the two-bass set-up, with Stone waxing Jaco-ish. “Gratitude,” also previously unissued, nods to Monk, nicely off-kilter. “The Children Of The Future” builds ceremonial suspense but, in the end, promises more than it delivers.

Two other solo piano pieces, “Longing” and “The Shroud,” help create balance in intense band tracks. The former draws thundering chimes from the piano, managing to be both tender and percussive. The latter starts with a daring unison figure played at the extremes of the keyboard, then flows into a bluesy, minor three feel.

All in all, an impressive historic retrieval that will be welcomed by Seattle fans who long adopted Jessica Williams as their own.



Posted on

May 29, 2024