Jeff Williams and his new album Bloom makes me rethink all of those reviews where I discuss the idea of the drummer-as-leader in jazz, and how that individual coaxes performances from the others on stage through momentum as well as the arrangements. Williams, who keeps the project simple by using a spare piano trio, with pianist Carmen Staaf and bassist Michael Formanek, uses this opportunity to show what he’s made of behind the kit. This is Williams’ album all the way, full of stellar drumming techniques that astound, all those lovely and challenging time signatures as well as a somewhat guttural approach to beat. Staaf and Formanek are trusted with just one job–keep up.
Jeff Williams, in other words, is a drummer’s drummer. His skill as a drummer is augmented by not only the hardware–he uses a Zildjian ride cymbal from the 1950s for a unique sound–but by ideas that are completely his own. He’s generous with his two cohorts, and he does rely on their color to pull out even the thorniest of melodies, but Bloom is an internal adventure. It’s a way of climbing inside these 11 tracks, mostly composed by the three, to create a sound that relies heavily on bee-bop from the Golden Age as well as freer explorations that focus on sound and beat. It’s in Williams’ head, and it needs to get out.
Bloom is a jazz album with extraordinary energy. It’s not loud or chaotic, even in the darker stretches. Jeff Williams and his drum kit are tight, lucid and streamlined. This is where the simplicity of a piano trio serves the music–each moment along the way holds up and never slides down the hill through the persuasiveness of sheer spontaneity. In a way, this is a bridge to free or experimental jazz, a way to stand on the ledge and look down. If you want to back away, Staaf’s rich piano will grab your hand and guide you back.
The real joy in Bloom is to sit and listen to Jeff Williams. He’s an old veteran, having played with Stan Getz, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano. He’s passionate about Thelonious Monk. Williams, Graaf and Formanek are an amazing trio–the title of this album is inspired by the synergy the three possess. Bloom is adventurous, as you might have guessed, but it’s also a chance to listen to a drummer who leads through the propulsive streams of ideas, of not looking back at those who are afraid to come along–even if the horizon is familiar to most.