JJ 06/74: Mose Allison and John Williams at Ronnie Scott’s

Burnett James, talking from 50 years ago, reminds us that despite the pleas of modern publicists, boundaries in jazz have long been broken. First published in Jazz Journal June 1974

John Williams, still pondering the jazz gigs, at the Watermill, Dorking, in 2019. Photos © Brian O'Connor

Classical guitarist John Williams has become something of a regular at Ronnie’s. The idea is excellent, but the right pairing hasn’t al­ways been easy to find. He’s been on with Soft Machine, Keith Tippett, Barney Kessel, none for different reasons quite ideal, or really complementary.

Latest time it’s been with the Mose Allison Trio, and this worked best of all, not because John’s music and Mose’s are particularly alike but simply because they seem to lie to­gether in two-way comfort. In fact, apart from John’s guitar, it was a feast for piano buffs, since the evening began with an excellent set by the Tony Crombie trio, Pat Smythe in ripe form. This put us all in a good mood and deserves mention on its own.

Mose Allison is now more a singer who accompanies himself than a pianist who sings a bit. He has also, for the time being any­way, left his trumpet at home. Not that he doesn’t play quite a lot of solo piano, in that distinctive blues-based style he has evolved out of various elements of traditional blues and bop with additions. It certainly is an individual style, not all that profound perhaps but full of personal twists and turns and al­ways keeping the ears alert for in­teresting diversions.

As a singer, Mose has developed some since his early Prestige records (a double album was reissued last year – PR 4002). There is now more res­onance to the voice (though it will never be all that deep sounding) and a greater variety. His songs are personal and pertinent – like his piano playing, full of distinctive touches.

On the first set he was partnered by Martin Drew (dm) and Peter Chapman (bs). For the second Ron Mathewson took over from Chap­man, and proceeded to give a fantastic display of virtuoso bass playing, using his instrument with a violinist’s resource and flexibility (almost). I expected the ghost of Pops Foster to sit up and put in for a transfer back to find out what the hell’s going on. Ron can also lay down a hefty beat.

John Williams played Patrick Gowers’ new rhapsody for guitar and electronic tape. The tape has Gowers himself (who was present on my night in person) on electric organ, with John on electric guitars. This is then played as ‘concerted’ half of the piece with John’s acoustic guitar ‘live’. It is a splendid piece, too, full of imagi­native and effective writing and ex­ploiting the solo guitar with much skill.

Thereafter, John played various solo pieces from his concert repertory. In the Bach E major Prelude he actually (Heaven help us) perpetrated a clanger. But per­haps Heaven has helped us: if John Williams can put a finger through the paper, there is hope for all of us. A master musician for sure.