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Mal Waldron Quintet with Steve Lacy: One-Upmanship

Robert Spencer By

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Over twenty years after its first release, One-Upmanship appears for the first time on compact disc, and it is a most welcome reappearance. The appearance of any recording by Mal Waldron should be a cause for celebration, but this one is particularly special for a number of reasons. Not only is Waldron joined by his longtime duo partner, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, but by three other performers with a keen simpatico: trumpeter Manfred Schoof, bassist Jimmy Woode, and drummer Makaya Ntshoko. The playing of each of these men, including Waldron, on One-Upmanship should alone be enough to give them unsung hero status.

As if that weren't enough, on this CD reissue three solo piano tracks have been added: "Duquility," "Thoughtful," and Waldron's most famous tune, "Soul Eyes." Waldron has recorded solo infrequently, and yet always brilliantly, so these are a treat. Since his late Fifties stint as Billie Holiday's pianist, and his recordings in those days with John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, Waldron's piano style has matured and evolved into a compact, highly dramatic form that should rank him with the best jazz pianists of the last forty years. These three performances illustrate that abundantly. He can drive as hard as McCoy Tyner or even Cecil Taylor, yet can spin melodic figures with all the gossamer of Bill Evans. He has been called unmelodic, a charge I think unjustified. He does tend to work small melodic cells until they transmute into new ones: a hypnotic tension-building effect that gives his playing a particular dynamic power.

Aside from the solo numbers, this set includes the multifaceted title track, the delicate "Seagulls of Kristiansund," and the rousing "Hooray for Herbie." Lacy plays with emotional restraint wrapped in breathtaking virtuosity, as in his extended upper-upper-register fadeout on "Seagulls." Schoof sets him off with ferociously fluent solos at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. And Mal Waldron - well! There is a point where words fail.

Absolutely first-rate jazz. Highly, highly recommended.


Title: One-Upmanship | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Enja Records


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