Mal Waldron with The Steve Lacy Quintet

Mal Waldron with The Steve Lacy Quintet Verve/Free America 5 Tracks Recorded 1972, Paris

Free at last?

I borrow this from the CD's liner notes in order to introduce New York born pianist Mal Waldron who died on December 2, 2002, in Brussels.

Waldron's selected résumé: He was Billie Holiday's last accompanist. In the early 1950's he and Steve Lacy fell in love with Monk's compositions and Lacy, in particular, devoted himself to playing only Monk's music for a period of time. Both musicians are thoroughly versed in the wide tonal contributions and languages of Louis Armstrong ("Blue Wee" is Lacy's tribute to Pops), Duke, and Monk. Waldron and Lacy share this common language and therefore possess a living musical metaphor to work from.

Free at last?

It has been Waldron's project to "... force myself to think of the future; I try to play music that is freer at all levels. Little by little I manage it, I do my best, but I'm very slow."

Throughout this CD, the contrast between the musicians is striking. Waldron's music is based on tonal and rhythmic principles, while Lacy's is atonal. Where Lacy has a fondness for fragments, riffs, anecdotal sequences and tone rows, Waldron sounds and resounds a tonal centre, crunches chords and scales in a spirit of tension and release (a big part of Miles' music), and stubbornly deliberates on the stillness that is in Lacy's constant winged flux.

In "Blue Wee", as upward horn and string runs become high bird songs cheeping and cheeping on city wires, Waldron employs a travelling bass line, its persistent pattern an additional element in a freely evolving composition in which the horns and strings of Steve Potts, Steve Lacy, bassist Kent Carter and cellist Irene Aebi, blend in exalted bird song.

"Jump for Victor" begins as one of the most consonant of the tunes. Its introductory (repeated) chord prepares the way for the fleet horns' bird calls of 5 notes, 9 notes, 7 notes, as if they were testing their tonal range; then Steve Potts' spirited 'woody woodpecker' riff sprints from its cartoon world origins and enters squealing into our world. But fear not. We're simply listening to intense inner journeys.

Free at last?

If you like the tension of Waldron's 'come hell or high water' deliberate approach to instant composition, counterbalanced by the fleet birdlike choir of Lacy, Potts, Kent Carter and Irene Aebi, then what are you waiting for?

Mal Waldron with The Steve Lacy Quintet is a recording of a place-space-time when two composers who became intertwined as musical brothers, finally got it together, and recorded this double sensibility approach to open-ended improvisation.

Steve Lacy — sporano saxophone
Steve Potts — soprano and alto saxophones
Mal Waldron — piano
Irene Aebi — cello, vocal
Kent Carter — double bass
Noel McGhee — drums
We welcome your comments and feedback
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Report by David Fujino
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for The Live Music Report

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