More jazz from the stacks! Mal Waldron is one of my favorites. An accompanist for Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, and Erik Dolphy amongst others Mal Waldron had a super unique approach that featured a lot of repetition of notes and motifs. His beautiful song Soul Eyes is a classic (check out the John Coltrane version) and one of my favorite ballads.
This album is pretty great. It features that beautiful sound of so many Van Gelder productions on the Impulse label. Mal’s style has been described as minimalistic and angular and I think that’s why I like his playing here. It reminds me of early Monk in that way. Totally unique and immediately identifiable. As much as I love the virtuosity of more well-known players, it is the quirky masters of their own voice like Mal and Monk that I really admire.
In his case, his unique voice was probably the result of his switching of instruments from saxophone to piano in his early twenties and then a heroin overdose which damaged his ability to improvise quickly for some time afterward. Prior to this overdose and subsequent mental breakdown, Waldron's playing was very lyrical, but afterward, he said, “I couldn’t find that lyricism inside myself anymore, so I became a very angular player”. To compensate for this he would compose his solos in advance for several years until he had recovered well enough to improves again. After recovering his playing remained sparse, deliberate, and direct. Personally, I feel a real affinity for this probing, investigative approach. It is simultaneously melodic and deconstructive with a certain internal coherence that often feels somewhat dissonant, in a pleasant way, within the musical context. His melodies, stubbornly refused to be swayed by any underlying harmonic structure. Here he lets ideas develop at their own pace and in their own time, turning them over and testing them with subtle variations in feel, timing, and swing. There is a strong Horace Silver influence in his left-hand comping and also in his sparse, bluesy runs and chordal stabs.
This is a good record to enjoy in February, in Austin, when the sun is distant and a thin layer of ice covers the grass and trees. You can check it out digitally here.
If you want to know more about Mal Waldron, I recommend the documentary “A Portrait of Mal Waldron” here.