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State of Art

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Album Review

Bassist Ben Williams' 2011 solo debut, State of Art, is a thoughtful contemporary and post-bop-leaning album that finds the winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition delving into several original tunes and successful pop covers. Williams is an adroit improviser with a fluid, muscular approach to the upright — as well as the electric — bass, and he showcases all of his skills here along with his ear for unexpected covers and lively originals. Tracks like the roiling, Latin-infused number "November," featuring guitarist Matthew Stevens, and the high-energy, frenetic "Mr. Dynamite" are ear-popping straight-ahead jazz moments, while the hip-hop jazz cut "The Lee Morgan Story," featuring MC/vocalist John Robinson, brings to mind such '90s innovators as Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest. A child of the hip-hop generation, Williams clearly has an affinity for the music he grew up with, and consequently, although he does deliver a ruminative and gorgeous contemporary jazz version of "Moonlight in Vermont" here, he also includes a handful of inspired soul covers, including a string-heavy take on Michael Jackson's "Little Susie" and a slow and funky modal jazz version of Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover" featuring saxophonist Marcus Strickland, while he turns R&B singer Goapele's "Things Don't Exist" into a cinematic orchestral jazz ballad. Though not an R&B cover, Williams' version of trumpeter Woody Shaw's underappreciated "Moontrane" only helps to further expand an already supremely well-rounded debut.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active:

Jazz bassist Ben Williams is a forward-thinking musician who crosses easily between straight-ahead, funk, and gospel-influenced jazz. A native of Washington, D.C., Williams graduated from the Duke Ellington School of Music before studying with renowned bassist Rodney Whitaker while earning a B.A. in jazz studies at Michigan State University. He is an in-demand sideman and has performed with a veritable who's who of jazz, including Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller, Terence Blanchard,...
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State of Art, Ben Williams
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