Mal Waldron’s passing this past December robbed jazz of one of its finest and most original pianists. His long career was marked by many high points, including stints with Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Booker Little. It is especially wonderful to listen to Waldron in solo and duet settings, where his unique style on his instrument can be heard to its fullest effect. One of the best of these albums is After Hours,
a thrilling standards set recorded with the late vocalist Jeanne Lee.
While Lee’s voice is an acquired taste, it is often grand and expressive. Lee soars through her remarkable range, but she always retains a sense of intimacy. Waldron, who spent the last few years of Billie Holiday’s life as her accompanist, is sensitive to Lee’s needs as he improvises behind her. Yet Waldron never fails to enchant the listener with his haunting tone and his unique touch. After Hours has a meditative rather than romantic air about it, which suits both Lee and Waldron’s styles. Both artists are masters of understatement, drawing more attention with a whisper than many could with a shout.
The song selection is eclectic. An exotic “Caravan” sits alongside a mournful “Goodbye Pork- Pie Hat” and a sultry “I Could Write a Book.” Each performance is rich and deeply nuanced, inviting the listener to “listen and dig it,” as Lee sings in “Pork-Pie Hat.”
Can you dig it? Mal Waldron was playing what he was feeling.