CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two-time Grammy nominee Ben Williams played at the Clay Center Saturday night in an intimate and casual performance. With seating onstage the audience was treated to an up-close and personal jazz experience.
A graduate of Julliard, Williams plays the standup bass in a five-part ensemble, called the Sound Effect, that consists of Marcus Strickland on saxophone, Matthew Stevens on guitar, Chris Bauer on piano/keyboard and John Davis on drums. These five men meld together seamlessly.
They opened the show with an arrangement of "Fly or Die" by N.E.R.D. (Nobody Ever Really Dies, a funk alternative, hip-hop band). Contrary to what the composer's name suggests this piece had a mellow, smooth, relaxed classic jazz feel and a rounded vibe that gave Williams plenty of time to show off his nimble finger action.
They played several classically-styled jazz pieces, some original like "The Dawn of a New Day," and some classic, like Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover," an obvious crowd favorite. However, most of the concert consisted of slightly edgier jazz. Not so avant-garde as to be grating but just fresh enough to be different, to get the audience to sit up and take notice.
New, original composition like "The Dawn of a New Day" and "The Color of My Dreams" featured novel solos and interesting instrumental layering that made them stand out from more traditional jazz arrangements.
I cannot say enough about the incredible amount of talent pouring off the stage in the form of saxophone solos from Marcus Strickland. The man was marvelous playing soprano, tenor and alto saxophone; he seemed to never tire and run out of breath. Fingers nimbly dancing over the keys he belted out soaring melodies and literally pulled the audience forward in their seats as they waited for the next feat.
Especially exciting was "Forecast," a piece evocative of the weather the title implies. Featuring a bit of dissonance and some bright popping piano action, the arrangement dipped into the sultry, dark foreboding of an incoming storm with a dark, tribal-sounding drum/bass combo only to lighten with the overlay of a crisp, piercing sax. The quick mood changes were suggestive of typical West Virginia weather in March. The piece could not have been more timely or fitting.
Ben Williams and the Sound Effect played for almost two solid hours with no intermission and very little talking. The audience definitely received a full evening of music and a jazz experience like no other.