Mala Waldron: Always There (2006)

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Mala Waldron: Always There
My first reaction to this new album from the daughter of jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Mal Waldron was that it was a R&B/smooth jazz entry. But after a second listen, I was able to find a few reasons to get it over towards the jazz side of town. Mala Waldron has plenty of formal jazz training, having studied with Makanda Ken McIntyre at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. She also pursued vocal studies with Amina Claudine Myers, percussion with Andrew Strobert and Warren Smith, and arranging/composing with James "Jabbo" Ware. Despite all of this, Mala Waldron's singing has prompted comparisons with Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and Al Jarreau—and that is the preference of Waldron, who also names George Duke, Ramsey Lewis and Les McCann as influences.

Waldron wisely chose an infectious up-tempo groove to open the album. In fact, "Whispers In The Wind" has a lot of Randy Crawford going for it (think "Street Life" of a few decades ago), and the instrumentation sounds pretty good—including her keyboards, while in a smooth jazz groove, and the guitar work of Steve Salerno. She also displays her skills at scatting on "Too Good For Words" before any of the lyrics begin. On "Ellie," Waldron gets a lengthier scatting opportunity, supported nicely by Salerno. The guitarist also shows that he is fully capable of providing rock-style playing on "Why (When I Say Goodbye)" and then enters a comfortable jazz mode on the next tune, "Can't Stop Thinking About You."

The eleven tracks are all Waldron originals, save for a reworked cover of The Doors' big late-1960s rock hit, "Light My Fire." Some of the tunes are better than others, but all are acceptable. Despite the fact that Waldron has all the skills to play and sing jazz, her goal at this time is to evoke comparisons with artists like Anita Baker, Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack. She does have a strong vocal presence that is totally appropriate for these tunes, and although she does make use of some melisma in her delivery, it is nowhere as evident as the wretched excess of just about all of the current crop of female R&B/hip-hop vocalists.

Track Listing: Whispers in The Wind; Because of You; Always There; Too Good For words; I Do Remember You; Ellie; Why; Can't Stop Thinking About You; Light My Fire; Proud Lion; Maybe It's Not So.

Personnel: Mala Waldron: vocals, piano/keyboards; Miriam Sullivan: bass; Steve Salerno: guitars; Michael "T.A." Thompson: drums, background vocals; Jim Clouse: additional pecussion (5).

Record Label: Soulful Sound

Style: Dixieland/New Orleans/Swing


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