Pianist Gareth Williams has been a somewhat quiet presence on the UK jazz scene. Often working as a sideman, he has perfected the technique of making others sound good. When he does step into the spotlight with his own projects and recordings it often wondered why we don’t hear a lot more about this unassuming but consummate musician.
Having just released a new trio album, Short Stories, we took the opportunity to ask Gareth about his favourite albums.
1. Bill Evans – Waltz for Debby (Riverside Records) 1962
This is often cited as the zenith in Bill’s collaboration with the ill-fated Scott LaFaro. The poignant melancholy of the piano playing, juxtaposed with the searching, explorative bass playing is magnetic. The drumming, often brushes and textures, is a precursor of ECM to come.
2 Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony – LSO, Previn (HMV) 1973
Although my first love was his 2nd Piano Concerto (famously used as an integral part of the film ‘Brief Encounter’); in his 2nd Symphony Rachmaninov manages to hold the emotional tension for longer and gives full rein to the orchestral forces. This EMI recording is from the golden age of vinyl pressings and Previn doesn’t stint with expansiveness.
3. Mahler 9 Karajan Berlin Philharmoniker (live recording) (Deutsche Grammophon) 1994
This could have been one of several Mahler symphonies, but the raw excitement of this version clinches the deal. You can hear Karajan crying out in a state of ecstatic anguish at one point. Death and transfiguration thrice over.
4. Keith Jarrett – My Song (ECM Records) 1978
Like many jazz musicians, I’ve had a few ‘awakenings’. One such was Russell Davis’s first Jazz Weekend on BBC2, which I watched while nursing a severe ear infection, when I was in my teens.
It was Sarah Beardsall (now a casting agent) who introduced me to Keith Jarrett. She gave me a cassette tape of some of the tracks on My Song, which sank into my bones by stealth.
In a class at The Guildhall, Simon Purcell played Jarrett’s ‘standards’ trio and within weeks I was playing nothing but Jarrett. For a short period, he eclipsed Coltrane in my order of merit.
My Song is possibly the most consistent of his output with his European trio: every track is a belter. It is also a fine example of his interaction with Palle Danielsson, who I was fortunate enough to have play on my album Short Stories.
5. Benjamin Britten Four Sea Interludes (from Peter Grimes) – Royal Opera House Orchestra: (Decca Legends) 1958
As a chorister I loved the crunchiness of the mid-century British composers. Britten and Tippet were the crunchiest.
Although not a choral piece, these four interludes (from Peter Grimes) demonstrate his ability as orchestrator and a profound control of dissonance within consonance. This version is from the fabled 1958 recording, with Britten at the helm.
6. Elgar – Symphony No. 1 – Barbirolli (HMV) 1963
The musical death and resurrection of the slow movement came over the radio when I was going through a regular bout of mental ill-health. I’ve never forgotten the beauty and the buds of resigned hope.
7. John Coltrane – Crescent (Impulse!) 1964
Although I’ve been listening to other Coltrane albums in recent years, this was the one that has the most formative impact. Coltrane, perhaps at the behest of the record company, is holding his wilder instincts in check; this perhaps enhances the conciseness of melodic and harmonic ideas, to create a cohesive and disarmingly romantic album.
8. McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy (Blue Note) 1967
The apogee of Tyner’s playing. It’s as if all his best playing with Coltrane over the previous years has been condensed and moulded beautifully into wonderfully crafted vehicles, each composition playing to his immense improvisational strengths.
9. Paul Bley – Footloose (Savoy Records)1963
Add Paul Bley to Bill Evans in 1964, add unsurpassed ability and you have Bill Bley, sorry, Keith Jarrett. This apogee of Bley’s output paves the way for a freer form of improvisation, even within structured compositions.
10. Keith Jarrett – Standards Live (ECM Records) 1986
This could have been any one of several of Jarrett’s ‘standards’ albums but I’ve chosen this one because of its overall evenness – the conveying of the mood of one concert. The intro to ‘Stella By Starlight’ and the solo on ‘Too Young To Go Steady’ are examples of Jarrett at his lilting best.
Thanks to Gareth for taking part!
Don’t forget that you can read our review of Gareth’s latest album Short Stories here.