Somehow, my cell phone makes live music sound like the most jaggedly compressed MP3 in the world, but I'm still entranced by the ballad pianist Jessica Williams previews for me from her studio in Olympia. Notes twinkle and pause. Gorgeously sunny chords rise. The piece, which Williams calls "Gail's Song," confirms what she told me a few minutes ago: "Maybe I'm too jazz for the classical crowd and sometimes too classical for jazz folks, but I don't care about categories. I don't follow the crowd. My listeners don't either."
Epitomizing Duke Ellington's ideal to create music "beyond category," Williams not only draws upon all eras of jazz, but from just about everything she hears. On her latest disc, The Art of the Piano (Origin), she transforms an Erik Satie Gymnopédie into a countrified stroll, upping the tempo into a wistful, walking andante that achingly winds down into two tolling notes.
Her concerts are rhapsodically improvised as well. "I might start with an improvisation or some Fats Waller," she says. "The whole thing is pure process. It's as if the music is already written; I have to grab it out of the air and get it into the piano." Toward the end of our conversation, Williams mentions her plans for moving to the Southwest in the next few months. This concert (Thurs Jan 7, Triple Door, 7:30 pm, $20) might be her last Seattle appearance for a while. Don't miss it.
Two excellent though antipodal saxophonists, Wally Shoup and Bhob Rainey, hold forth this weekend. You can catch Shoup, an alto-sax firebrand who adds angular feints to his blues-rooted tone, fronting Spider Trio (Fri Jan 8, Rendezvous, 10 pm, $5). Aptly describing themselves as "free garage skronk," Shoup, in tandem with Jeffery Taylor of Climax Golden Twins and drummer Dave Abramson, unleash cleansing barrages of sound. This trio is messy, ecstatic, and full of heart.
Unlike Spider Trio's joyous inferno, Rainey (Fri–Sat Jan 8–9, Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave, 8 pm, $5–$15 sliding-scale donation) delves into the interior of his soprano saxophone, midwifing rasps, cries, and seemingly electronic tones that baffle and soon seduce. Here, the New Orleans–based improviser performs with a cadre of like-minded players, including pianist Gust Burns and one of my favorite percussionists, the inventive Jeffrey Allport.
For those seeking serenity, I recommend Pran (Sat Jan 9, Collins Pub, 526 Second Ave, 8 pm, free), the duo of Stuart Dempster and trombone, tuba, and didgeridoo powerhouse Greg Powers. Together, they improvise in the Dagarbhani style of Hindustani music, which mingles gently keeling drones with melodies that undulate like a sporadically wind-rippled sail. Lovely.