Mary Lou Williams, Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ of the Andes

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
One of jazz’s great female pianists gets religion.

Bop pianist Williams was a woman with a vision, and rarely was it clearer than on this often daring record. Black Christ isn't a single extended work, but is in fact just the opening cut, also known as "St. Martin de Porres," a rich, adventurous choral arrangement. But the spiritual motif extends throughout the album, on "Praise the Lord," "Anima Christi" and "The Devil." Elsewhere Williams swings through a pair of standards ("It Ain't Necessarily So" and "My Blue Heaven") as well as a number of her own compositions. There's often real delicacy in her playing, but when she decides to let go, she does it with a vengeance, as on "A Fungus a Mungus," where shards of notes explode from the keyboard before resolving into a melody. In part, this is an album with the ambition of an Ellington suite, but it never forgets its jazz roots. It's stood the test of time beautifully to become a major part of the legacy of jazz's great female pianist.