BRATTLEBORO >> Ben Williams is a rising star jazz bassist. And so much more.
Sure, he entered the jazz big leagues in 2009 at the age of 25 when he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Bass Competition, which then opened the door to signing a recording contract with Concord Records. Then Williams grabbed a Grammy Award with the Pat Metheny Unity Band for Best Jazz Instrumental Album of 2012. He was voted top overall rising star in Downbeat's 2015 Critic's Poll and he has shared the stage with the likes of jazz giants Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, Roy Hargrove, Terence Blanchard, and Metheny.
But Williams, who will perform with his quartet at The Vermont Jazz Center this Saturday, is also an eclectic composer with a voracious musical appetite. His recently released second album on Concord, entitled "Coming of Age" incorporates flourishes of rap, funk, soul and R&B along with delectable doses of smooth-but-inventive jazz.
In a recent email exchange, Williams cited a wide array of adventurous musical inspirations, including one in particular who recently passed. "I remember music playing all the time around the house, mostly R&B/Soul records that my mother was into like James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and of course Michael Jackson and Prince were a huge presence. Prince was sort of the reason why I wanted to be a musician in the first place. I was really into his music from a young age and was captivated by his guitar playing enough to make we want be a guitar player. The reason why I play bass is because the guitar class was full (at middle school) and I had to pick another instrument to play!"
Young Williams found his instrument. Then he found Miles. "What turned me on to jazz was a cassette tape that my band director gave me of Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue." I was pretty much hooked after that. I have been inspired by all different styles of music, everyone from James Brown, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Jaco Pastorius, Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti. The list goes on and on."
A close listen to Coming of Age reveals an artist finding his own voice by channeling his musical heroes without adhering to musical boundaries. "For me it's not about adhering to any particular ideas of what "jazz" is but rather about making music with clarity of emotion".
The record documents his evolution as a composer, player, and band leader while exhibiting a social conscience. "'Coming of Age' was about showing my growth as an individual and as an artist. I feel like a lot of things happened since my first release "State of Art" in 2011 and I wanted to share that with my fans. Touring as a leader and also extensively with Pat Metheny, as well as social issues that affected me were all things that played a role in this new growth. With my music I always try to capture the essence of our humanity and address the complexities of life as a citizen of this world. I think that sort of thing really taps into the soul."
Williams, like many bold musicians, thrives on making music in the moment. "The live performance is very special with this group because we truly live in the moment and follow wherever the spirit leads us. I have been very fortunate in my career thus far and I have always tried to take away something from every single experience"
The Ben Williams Quartet will be at the Vermont Jazz Center, 72 Cotton Mill Hill #222, Brattleboro on Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets $20-40 sliding scale, $15 students. Available on line, at door, In the Moment Records, Main St. Brattleboro, or reserved by phone. For more information call 802-254-9088 or visit www.vtjazz.org.
Dave Madeloni writes music reviews for the entertainment section of the Brattleboro Reformer.