Live Concert Photography: Ben Williams at Nublu Studio 151 2/8/20
Ben Williams is an acclaimed Washington DC-born and-based singer/songwriter, bassist, composer, bandleader and highly sought-after collaborator. Williams graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Michigan State University and The Juilliard School, winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition(now known as the Herbie Hancock International Jazz Competition) back in 2009 and a Grammy Award as a member of Pat Metheny‘s Unity Band. He has collaborated with an impressive and remarkably diverse array of artists including Wynton Marsalis,George Benson, Maxwell, Robert Glasper, Pharrell and a long list of others. (He also appeared in Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead.)
As a bandleader and composer, Williams has released two albums through renowned jazz label Concord Records — 2011’s State of Art and 2015’s Coming of Age. But his latest album, his recently released third album I AM A MAN is a decided change in sonic direction for the rising artist with the material meshing past, present and future in a seamless fashion, as it draws from The Roots, Erykah Badu, Bilal, D’Angelo, Common, Roy Hargrove‘s RH Factor as well as Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On, Curtis Mayfield and others. Thematically, the album is a nuanced, protest album that deeply probes and explores soul and psyche of the Black American man.
Williams plays both double bass and electric bass throughout the album’s material, singing lead vocals on almost every single song on the album. He’s joined by an accomplished backing band of collaborators that includes Kris Bowers (keys), David Rosenthal (guitar), Marcus Strickland (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Bendji Allonce (percussion), Keyon Harrold (trumpet), Anne Drummond (flute), Jamire Williams (drums) and Justin Brown (drums). The album also features a handful of songs with string arrangements performed by a string quartet — Justina Sullivan (cello), Celia Hatton (viola), Maria Im (violin) and Chiara Fasi (violin), and vocals from Kendra Foster, Muhsimah, Wes Felton and Niles.
Deriving its title from Memphis‘ historic 1968 sanitation workers’ strike, during which African American men marched through the streets with picket signs that read “I Am A Man” in a boldface type, the album — to me, at least — suggests that the struggle for equality and inclusion during the Civil Rights era is still an ongoing one.
Williams and his cast of collaborators played a record release show at Nublu’s Studio 151 centered around the album’s material and offered fans a chance to hear the album’s first two singles live — the cinematic, Marvin Gaye-like “If You Hear Me,” and an atmospheric rendition of the civil rights era anthem “We Shall Overcome” that places it within a contemporary context while retaining the song’s hope for a far better, more just world.
Williams has a handful of tour dates to support his latest album. Check out the tour dates and photos from an incredible night at Nublu 151 below.
3/19: Washington, DC @ City Winery
3/20: Boston, MA @ Scullers
5/29-5/31: Tokyo Japan @ Cotton Club
6/1: Nagoya, Japan @ Nagoya Blue Note
6/8-6/9: Los Angeles, CA @ Blue Whale
6/10: Santa Cruz, CA @ Kuumbwa Jazz
6/11-6/13: San Francisco, CA @ Black Cat