Pianist Cedar Walton has long been the perfect accompanist for so many other leaders. He's written quite a few of jazz's few "standards" over the last half century as well. For four decades now, he's also been an outstanding leader, waxing dozens of discs that win plenty of critical plaudits but never seem to bring him the solo success he deserves. Consider how fellow pianists Horace Silver
, McCoy Tyner
and even Vincent Herring
and young lion Jeremy Pelt
on trumpet. Both fare well, however, to be fair, neither reaches the heights that, say, Clifford Jordan, Bob Berg, Blue Mitchell or Lee Morgan scaled in Walton's music in the past.
Perhaps that's why Herring, who's worked with Walton before, and Pelt show up only sporadically throughout the disc. The full quintet can be heard on the half-hearted opener, Gershwin's "The Man I Love," but snap into gearon all frontson Jimmy Heath's lively "Longravity" (originally heard on a 1983 Heath Brothers album), the excellent "Plexus," which Walton introduced on Freddie Hubbard's debut, Hub Cap
(Blue Note, 1961), and "John's Blues," first heard on Walton's Eastern Rebellion album, Mosaic
Among the disc's finest performance is Walton's quartet feature, "When Love Is New," which Walton first unveiled on Art Blakey's Indestructible
(Blue Note, 1964). Here, Pelt reveals his subtle gifts on flugelhorn and no matter whether Walton is in the background or out in front, he is purely and perfectly poetic. Al Foster, as he does elsewhere, simply melts into the mood. It is a performance to behold, one that finds all four participants at their very best. As evidenced here, Walton's mastery of the ballad is simply peerless.
The opportunity to revel in Walton's melodic swing and dazzling pianistic palette makes the trio pieces the real treasures to be heard here. Walton wends his way magisterially through his classic waltz, "Clockwise," which harks back to Eastern Rebellion 2
(Timeless, 1977), "Hindsight," from the pianist's stint with Junior Cook on the excellent and highly recommended Somethin's Cookin'
(Muse, 1981) and the gracefully bird-like lark of "A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square."
The title Seasoned Wood
may successfully riff on the artist's name and the artistry he brings to the occasion, but as anyone with a fireplace knows, seasoned wood burns hotter and better than regular wood. Indeed, Cedar Walton does so here.