Cedar WALTON: a brief biography and some reviews...
One of the most valued of all hard bop accompanists,
Cedar Walton is a versatile pianist whose funky touch and cogent melodic sense has graced the recordings of many of jazz's greatest players. He is also one of the music's more underrated composers; although he has always been a first-rate interpreter of standards,
Walton wrote a number of excellent tunes ("Mosaic,"
"Bolivia" to name a few) that found their way into
Art Blakey's book during the pianist's early-'60s stint with the
Walton was first taught piano by his mother. After attending the University of Denver, he moved to New York in
1955, ostensibly to play music. Instead, he was drafted into the Army. Stationed in Germany, Walton played with American musicians
Leo Wright, Don Ellis, and Eddie Harris. After his discharge, Walton moved back to New York, where he began his career in earnest. From
1958-61, Walton played with
Kenny Dorham, J.J. Johnson, and Art Farmer's Jazztet, among others.
Walton joined Blakey in 1961, with whom he remained until '64. This was perhaps Blakey's most influential group, with
Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. Walton served time as Abbey
Lincoln's accompanist from 1965-66
and made records with Lee Morgan
from 1966-68; from
1967-69, Walton served as a sideman on many Prestige albums as well.
Walton played in a band with Hank Mobley in the early '70s and returned to Blakey for a
1973 tour of Japan. Walton's own band of the period was called
Eastern Rebellion, and was comprised of a rotating cast that included saxophonists
Clifford Jordan, George Coleman and Bob Berg, bassist Sam Jones
and drummer Billy Higgins. In the '80s and
'90s, Walton continued to lead his own fine bands, recording on the Muse, Evidence, and Steeplechase labels.
In addition to his many quantifiable accomplishments, Walton is less well known as the first pianist to record, in April
John Coltrane, the tenorist's daunting "Giant
Steps" — unlike the unfortunate
Tommy Flanagan a month later, Walton wasn't required to solo, though he does comp magnificently.
There have been many Cedar Walton records put out through the years and the three that he and his trio made during a Bologna concert in
1985 rank with his best. Joined by bassist David Williams
and drummer Billy Higgins, Walton stretches out on four standards (highlighted by
"My Ship") and a pair of originals
("Holy Land" and
"Voices Deep Within
Me") during this first volume; all are easily recommended to straightahead jazz collectors.
Cedar Walton's second set of unaccompanied solos (following his little-known Clean Cuts release Piano Solos by five years) features the talented veteran pianist exploring six standards (including
"Without a Song" and
"Just in Time") plus four of his originals. Although always a hard bop stylist, Walton was never just a one-handed pianist and this superior release does not find him or listeners missing a bassist or drummer. Recommended.
Eastern Rebellion name is not used on this release, the personnel of the quintet (pianist
Cedar Walton, tenor saxophonist Bob Berg, trombonist Curtis
Fuller, bassist David Williams and drummer Billy Higgins) is the same as the
version of that hard bop group. Their live set (recorded in Bologna, Italy) features the band performing four Walton originals (including
"Cedar's Blues" and
"Over the Rainbow." The results may not be unique but the solos of
Walton, Berg and Fuller are consistently satisfying, making this date easily recommended to hard bop collectors.
The second of three albums recorded by pianist Cedar Walton, bassist
David Williams and drummer Billy Higgins during a single concert in Bologna, Italy is (like the other two) an excellent example of Walton's distinctive approach to hard bop. The trio stretches out on
"Theme for Ernie",
"For All We Know",
Thelonious Monk's "Off
Red's "Bluesville" and a couple of lesser-known Walton originals.
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