Sometimes a break can be the best thing a musician can take. Not getting tired by any means, if a four-year sabbatical from recording as a leader results in as strong a comeback as reedman Myron Walden's, perhaps artists should take breaks more often. A charter member of drummer Brian Blade
's Fellowship Band, Walden is back with not one, but three CDs over the next couple months. The first, Momentum
, is a potent modern mainstream set that takes trumpet icon Miles Davis
' legendary 1960s quintet as a touchstone, but achieves reverence without sacrificing its own voice.
Walden's writing has always demonstrated a distinctive blending of front line horns that almost sounds like a single voice, but especially in the context of the Fellowship where it's a confluence of reeds. Still, even when writing for saxophone and trumpet, as Walden does here, there remains a skillful commingling, with the horns often orbiting around each other harmonically before coming together in strong unison. The relaxed yet simmering feel of "Pulse"a waltz-time ballad driven by flexible drummer Kendrick Scott's visceral, in-the-pocket groove with bassist Yasushi Nakamuraprovides a modal context for solos building with inevitable intensity by Walden and trumpeter Darren Barrett, while David Bryant's atmospheric electric piano pushes the band into territory somewhere between Miles' Filles de Kilimanjaro and Miles in the Sky, both from Columbia in 1968.
Walden deserts his usual axe in favor of tenor saxophone, proving himself as thoughtful yet fiery a player on the bigger horn as he is on alto, and using the instrument's lower register to accomplish many of the ideas he'd normally play on bass clarinet (also left in its case). Miles may be the touchstone, but Walden's charts are far more challenging to navigateespecially "Carnage," an up-tempo burner featuring Scott's marvel of in-the-moment, polyrhythmic invention.
With plenty of solo space for everyone, Walden also contributes three largely through-composed miniatures, serving as rallying points throughout Momentum's 55-minute set. "Like a Flower Seeking the Sun," with Nakamura's evocative, chordal intro, is redolent of Shorter's enduring title track to Davis' Nefertiti (Columbia/Legacy, 1967), with its repeated front line motif a foundation for Scott's imaginative, polyrhythmic invention. Two versions of "When Time Stood Still" bookend five tunes, ranging from the indigo-tinged "Longing" to the barnstorming "Carnage"managing, both in less than 100 seconds, to provide brief yet definitive solos spots: the first, some empathic in-tandem free play from Walden and Barrett; the second, a closing statement supporting Scott's ongoing emergence as an increasingly ubiquitous post-bop powerhouse of choice.
On its own, Momentum would be enough to say that Walden is back, and with a vengeance. As part of a triptych that will ultimately conclude with the reflective In This World and funk-driven Countrified (both due out on Walden's Demi Sound Records in January, 2010), it's but one of three that will paint the broadest picture of Walden's expansive interests yet; a document of one of the modern mainstream's most provocative saxophonists, composers, and bandleaders.