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Cedar Walton: The Maestro

David A. Orthmann By

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There’s a lot of memorable music on this reissue of two sessions recorded a decade apart. The common element is the presence of longtime Walton associates, bassist David Williams and drummer Billy Higgins, who play on all 12 tracks. The music from December, 1980 (tracks 1-8) includes tenor saxophonist Bob Berg (the fourth member of the pianist’s working band at the time) and four cuts with vocalist Abbey Lincoln (who Walton worked with in the mid-sixties).

Recorded at the end of a two-month tour, the band has a nice, loose feel, plays with confidence, yet the music is filled with details that set it apart from a simple head-solos-head format. For instance, on Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” Lincoln’s vocal begins only after Walton’s short solo has been sandwiched between Berg’s two playings of the tune’s melody. Another example is Walton and Berg’s delightfully swinging unison chorus on the title track (with music and lyrics written by the pianist), which makes a fine contrast to the authority and power of Lincoln’s voice.

Both Berg and Walton are in exceptional form during their solo work. Berg stands out on an up-tempo version of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” where he displays a great command of the bebop lexicon, but clearly has his own voice. Another one of Monk’s compositions, “Blue Monk,” also taken at a faster tempo than usual, finds Walton digging into a phrase with relish, and then moving effortlessly to the next one.

The music from July, 1990 (tracks 9-12) features a front line of trumpeter Terence Blanchard and alto saxophonist Jesse Davis. The music seems more polished than the earlier session, sounding like a particularly tight hard bop ensemble. Walton has a knack for coming up with nifty arrangements of standards like “Young And Foolish,” and “As Long As There’s Music,” as well as doing justice to another Monk composition, “Pannonica.” On this one he artfully scatters notes and chords over Blanchard and Davis’ solemn reading of the melody, plays the bridge without the horns, and follows with a solo that stays in the spirit of the ballad, yet gently pushes and pulls the tune in various directions.

Track List:In A Sentimental Mood; Rhythm-A-Ning; Not In Love; Sabia; The Maestro; Blue Monk; Castles; On The Trail; Young And Foolish; I’m Not So Sure; Pannonica; As Long As There’s Music.

Personnel: Cedar Walton

Title: The Maestro | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: 32 Records

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