The mood at Judi Silvano's recent Birdland engagement was decidedly bittersweet. She was there to promote a new duo CD with Mal Waldron entitled Riding A Zephyr,
but the legendary pianist's unexpected passing last December transformed the proceedings from what had originally been intended as a celebration of their work together into a moving tribute to Waldron's hallowed career.
On the recently released CD, Silvano and Waldron team up on ten bulbous tracks, offering both artists' intrinsically unique approach to vocal jazz. With Silvano, distinction is found in her imaginatively woven scat style, as well as her eerily displacing vocal harmonics. Waldron's "Cattin'" and Silvano's "Dust" are prime illustrations - each carrying a healthy dose of both darkness and light, convention and inventiveness. When tackling lyrics, Silvano takes a similarly diversified approach. At times her style is jagged and abrupt, as with "Mal Waldron" (known instrumentally as "Flickers"), while at other times her voice is lush and inviting, as on Waldron's famous "Soul Eyes."
When it came to accompanying vocalists, Waldron ranks among the likes of Teddy Wilson and Jimmy Rowles as one of the most prolific in jazz history. For fifty years he made good singers sound great, and great singers... well, sound even greater. This set is no exception, as Waldron carefully constructs luminescent, pastoral environments for Silvano's voice to take flight, and he contributes several compelling, poignant solos.
All things considered, Riding A Zephyr
offers an opportunity for vocal jazz fans to expand their horizons of appreciation - as well as get what may well be their last taste of a departed jazz luminary.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz - New York