JD Walter is an outstanding contemporary vocalist with six superb CDs already to his credit. Strongly influenced by Betty Carter and Milton Nascimentothemselves true originalsWalter is a dedicated artist who has stretched the singer's palette, increasing the range of vocalizations and emotions available for interpretation and improvisation. In Live at the 55 Bar, representing sets that were recorded at Greenwhich Village's famed 55 Bar in New York City, Walter capitalizes, in particular, on his skillful use of sound-synthesizing devices.
The somewhat unusual nature of this CD is evident immediately from the cover photo, showing only the singer's feet on a device pedal. Walter's use of a loop station and a vocal bass/octave pedal expands his voice into a multi-layered instrument, achieving an ensemble effect while retaining the singularity of the vocalist himself. That he can accomplish in live performance, what a studio recording engineer might find difficult to achieve, is itself no small testimony to Walter's mission of singing without limitations. On "Beautiful Love," he creates a striking and very listenable crossover between his voice and a double-bass. Some vocalists incorporate a bassist's riffs in their scat singing, but Walter establishes a genuine synthesis of his voice and a bass violin, creating a fresh and energetic sonority of his own. On the balladic "Black Bird," he creates the ensemble effect of several singers, astounding for a live take.
Sound-wise, the producers and engineers sought to capture the essence of a live performance in order to highlight the venue, which has its own record label. It is a claustrophobic jazz fusion sound which serendipitously works well on this CD, though it pushes a precarious edge at times. The entire configuration of instruments, nightclub, and sonics goes well with Walter's urbane, slightly blue vocal persona. He emphasizes the reflective, connative side of the songs, with considerable rubato as opposed to the driving, straight-ahead rhythmic pulsation that typifies his other records. On "Say It Ain't So" and "Blackbird," Walter performs solo, using only the loop station and octave pedal for backup.
Walter has a beautiful, well-cared for tenor voice covering a wide register; a voice that shines through the complex backdrop of his pedal work and looping. The sidemen are all top of the line. Donald Edwards' and Marko Marcinko's drumming is especially strong. The same can be said for keyboardists Jim Ridl and Orrin Evans, and guitarist Pete McCann, although the engineering unfortunately obscures some of their subtleties.
For Walter fans, Live at the 55 Bar provides an extension of the singer's scope. Newcomers to his music will be introduced to the extraordinary capabilities of this exceptional vocalist, who has catapulted the art of the song well into the new millennium which frames our lives.
If I Knew; Hoping You'll Be There; Say It Ain't So; Clear Day; Beautiful Love; Blackbird.
JD Walter: vocals; Orrin Evans: keyboards (1, 4); Jim Ridl: Rhodes (1-3); Pete McCann: guitar (5); Mark Kelley: bass (2); Donald Edwards: drums (1, 2); Marko Marcinko: drums (5).