CD REVIEW: Ben Williams - State of Art (Universal)

As an energetic six year old, Ben Williams was as curious as a cat. Ben’s mother worked for Congressman John Conyers (an avid jazz lover) on Capitol Hill, so when she took the youngster into the office on his school break, a watchful eye was in order. One afternoon, while rambling around Conyers’ large, leather appointed office, Ben discovered a huge object that instantly captured his imagination. The shiny upright bass was like nothing the kid had ever seen. He tapped on it. He popped a string. He climbed up on it. “What is this thing?” he wondered.
Twenty years later, Ben Williams is still surprised at that chance meeting. “Its low frequency attracted me,” Williams recalls, “the way the instrument felt when I touched it. Then later, just the feeling of playing a groove. When you play a bass the whole instrument vibrates. It almost feels like the spirit of another human being. It’s like dancing with somebody and being in full contact with them. And the sound of the instrument appealed to me. It’s warm and deep and it resonated with me.” On the eve of his first CD, State of Art, Ben Williams is one of the most sought after bassists in the world, his resume a who’s who of jazz wisdom: Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Terence Blanchard, Christian McBride Big Band, Nicholas Payton, Paquito D’Rivera, Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Golson, George Duke, Eric Reed, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Hargrove, and Mulgrew Miller, to name a few.
Like many self-aware jazz musicians, Ben Williams has myriad influences, from “Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder and Duke Ellington” to “hip-hop and gospel, Little Dragon, Billy Joel, Marvin Gaye.” And like his colleagues in the new guard of jazz, Williams is constantly looking ahead, seeking the music’s potential and his place in it.“I’ve worked with Stefon Harris’ Blackout for the past few years,” Williams cites. “He has definitely been a huge influence in my concept of playing music. We have a similar viewpoint to music and jazz. He’s very much about addressing modern times and not rehashing old material. To really interpret what is happening right now, a lot of jazz musicians are into hip-hop and R&B, but they don’t put that into their music. We keep up with the times and we’re not afraid to put that into our music.”
To other musician’s music Williams brings his great natural skill and determination to explore, to expand boundaries while sustaining tradition. State of Art is a mature statement stamped with his voice, the next step in Ben Williams’ evolution. “I wanted to make an album that regular nine-to-five people could enjoy,” Williams says; “and to make a deep artistic statement as well. I like music that grooves, and I make sure that my music feels good." This album will sure make you feel good!