Free Spirits

Free Spirits

In July 1975, Mary Lou Williams recorded Free Spirits for the Danish label Steeplechase. Though the date didn’t pay much, it offered her complete creative control. That was of the utmost importance to Williams, who'd endured several decades' worth of barbs from the music business. The trio setting highlights the richness of Williams’ chords, which could evoke an orchestra even when one wasn't present. While Williams’ name is normally associated with the modal jazz innovations, Free Spirits in many ways confirms her as part of the circle that birthed the pivotal mid-'60s work of John Coltrane. Even though her playing always exhibits an element of restraint, songs like “Baby Man,” “Free Spirits," and “Temptation” conduct the same cascading waves of sorrow and freedom that ran through “My Favorite Things” and “A Love Supreme.” Williams was also a rare member of the swing generation who openly embraced and understood funk, and the gorgeous “Ode to Saint Cecile” proves she was one of the few who could play it without a hint of garishness.

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