Feb 6, 2020
Since winning the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Bass Competition in 2009, Ben Williams has been one of the brightest young stars in the jazz firmament. He has released two albums of his own (State of Art and Coming of Age), and recorded with Stefon Harris, Steve Wilson, and especially Pat Metheny. He anchored the rhythm section of the Unity Band with Antonio Sanchez, and won a Grammy for their first release in 2013.
I last saw Ben playing in Jose James' band on the Bill Withers tribute tour, and he was knocking them dead every night. He found a kindred spirit in James, who enticed him to record a new album on James' Rainbow Blonde label. Williams wrote, played and sings on this release, I Am a Man, which has a Neosoul/Marvin Gaye-ish feel to much of the album. He doesn't sacrifice his jazz chops though, bring long-time collaborators Marcus Strickland and Jamire Willams back, along with keyboardist Kris Bowers, guitarist David Rosenthal, percussionist Bendji Allonce, trumpeter Kenyon Harrold, flutist Anne Drummond, and drummer Justin Brown.
I Am a Man is a sophisticated protest album, taking the theme of protest and making it something uniquely musical. Listeners can here echoes of historic marches and modern day #BlackLives Matter protests in tunes like "The Death of Emmit Till", "Come Home" and of course, "We Shall Overcome."
Podcast 724 is my conversation with Ben, as we talk about the genesis of I Am a Man, how he added singing to his bass playing, and what he learned from his time with Pat Metheny. Musical selections include "March On", "If You Hear Me" and "Come Home" from I Am a Man and from the Unity Band album, my favorite track, "Roofdogs."