Bernie Williams: The Journey Within

Brian Houston

Bernie Williams

The Journey Within

Label: GRP
US Release Date: 2003-07-15
UK Release Date: Available as import

Bernie Williams is the centerfielder for the New York Yankees baseball team. If you are a baseball fan, or if you have just happened to see Williams play baseball because the Yankees have been the most successful baseball franchise of the past ten years, you have probably noticed that Williams does not play baseball like other centerfielders.

Centerfield is a position that requires a player to have great speed to cover a large area. Playing in the middle of the outfield often requires a player to make sprawling, reckless catches. These catches are the consequence of being stuck out in the great wide open, constantly patrolling the deepest part of the ballpark. A lot of centerfielders are pure speed; they break on the ball with an amazing intensity, taking a frenzied approach when the ball is hit, which pays off with the potential of making a spectacular shoestring catch.

Williams's play in centerfield has never been described as intense, frenzied, sprawling, or reckless. Williams's play has been compared to that of an antelope or a gazelle of the plains. He has a long, measured stride that does not look fast, but which always gets him to where he needs to be. Once his graceful stride kicks in and he extends his elongated reach, he is able to turn a play that at first seemed impossible into something that looks almost routine. His ability is amazing, particularly in its grace.

Williams brings this same measured intensity and this same graceful approach to his debut album of mostly original jazz material. Williams, who began studying music on a scholarship in Puerto Rico at the age of 13, plays guitar and had always envisioned his career being musical rather than athletic. Of course, no one turns down the opportunity to be an all-star baseball player, so Williams's workday has taken him to the ballpark rather than the studio -- at least until now.

The Journey Within, Williams's debut, is firmly rooted in the smooth jazz genre. Do not think that because Williams is a professional athlete his album exhibits any of the reckless bravado that has been exhibited on other musical offerings by professional athletes. With covers of "Dust in the Wind" and Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" it is apparent this record is nothing but adult jazz. Williams's training on the guitar took place with a classical emphasis, and the attention to control, detail, and pacing that is the cornerstone of classical guitar is evident through this entire album.

Williams is able to assemble a nice collection of accomplished artists to lend a hand throughout The Journey Within. Players such as Bela Fleck, Rueben Blades, and Gilberto Santa Rosa each add to the competency and skill with which Williams composes and plays each track.

The Journey Within reflects Williams's Latin roots on tracks such as "La Salsa en Mi", "Para Don Berna", and "Desvelado". "La Salsa en Mi" opens the album and possesses its most festive and aggressive playing. "Enter the Bond" stands out from the rest of the record by utilizing a pulsating techno beat to introduce the song and displaying a spy-theme vibe that feels much more adventurous that the record's other tracks. "Bernie Jr." is a comfortable track that sounds like what it feels like to hang around the house on a warm spring Sunday morning.

The Journey Within is expertly crafted, and it is obvious that the reason for this record finding its way to a major label is as much, if not more, the musician's skill as his popularity. Smooth jazz is a sound that is always ordered, comforting, and never really surprising. Williams's debut meets each of these goals with an expertly crafted record that establishes his potential to have another dream career waiting for him once his current dream career comes to an end.

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