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Cedar Walton: Cedar!

Cedar Walton Cedar!Cedar Walton Cedar!
Cedar Walton: Cedar!
(1967 Prestige OJC-462(PR-7519))

Original Liner Notes:
by Mark Gardener

A lot of listeners have been letting Cedar Walton slip past them for far too long. Why? Don't ask me -I quit trying to unravel this sort of mystery since first spying second hand- "only slightly used" -Charlie Parker albums in stores. Who in his right mind gives up any one of Bird's sides? Even allowing that a mob of aggressive creditors are massing to break down the door while a trembling, broke ornithologist on the side (six flights up and no fire escape, baby) cowers in the clothes closet? It simply doesn't make sense; you don't ditch artistic treasures for coin. Yet people do. And the fact is that people, with ears which are supposed to hear, have been fast asleep on Cedar. "Yeah, man, Cedar Walton ...he's on an album I've got somewhere ...I think." That's the kind of foggy reaction one gets from those who let on they know what's happening. The same characters who talk right through a record about the next record to be played. They invariably make a point of clinking glasses and chattering during the piano solos at a club. This album is NOT for them -unless they are prepared to pipe down and listen for a change. Because it's way overdue for Cedar Walton to get a proper hearing -and this is the first chance he's had to step forward and record the tunes of his choice with the musicians of his choice under choice conditions.

His disc debut as a leader after 12 years' paying dues in other men's bands is an inspiring event. An occasion that is celebrated by Cedar and colleagues with a generous outpouring of warm, joyful, mature music. Music of increasingly rare quality in an age when the bitter screams of frustration all but drown the tender, loving whispers and the happy shouts which also have important places in the sounds of jazz. Fortunately Cedar and friends don't go along with the current "hate makes the world go round" philosophy. They are artists creating art. And art has an obligation to reflect life through imagination.

But life isn't only about strife and anger, disgust and loathing. To form an artistic concept with the idea of projecting these things alone, to exclude every other emotion, is dangerously extremist. It is a false, at the other end of the scale, as the frothy mass-escapism which masqueraded under the banner of art in the 1930s -empty plays, hollow novels, sweet music. Of course Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley and Lester Young were around and saying it all then but they had hard rows to hoe. They offered the agents and consequently only the true listeners heard. However time did set the records straight for them. And the moment is ripe now for proper recognition to be given to the impressive talents of Cedar Anthony Walton Jr. The six enclosed tracks, if nothing else was considered, are striking proof of his individuality and stature as both pianist and composer.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with his background and achievements to date so a re-cap is in order. Cedar was born in Dallas, Texas on January 17, 1934, and learned the essential basics of music and the piano from his mother who happened to be an piano teacher. In high school he took up the clarinet and while still a student gigged around his home tone with local rhythm and blues bands. At the age of 21 he struck out for New York, spending a few months there before the Army grabbed him for a two-year stint from 1956-1958.

When he shed his uniform he returned to the action and was soon being hired by Gigi Gryce and Lou Donaldson. He also worked with fellow Texan Kenny Dorham before replacing Tommy Flanagan in J.J. Johnson's group. Cedar stayed with the trombonist for two years, toured the country and appeared on a couple of J.J.'s best records. He was prominently featured on titles like Mohawk and Shutter Bug with J.J.

His next move was to another leading combo, the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jezztet. He spent thirteen months with this sextet and made several recordings as a member of the unit. One session, taped live at Chicago's Birdhouse Club, captured a lengthy, beautifully inventive Cedar solo on Farmer's Market. The decision of Bobby Timmons to leave the Jazz Messengers and form his own trio meant Art Blakey was looking around for a replacement. Walton was his man and in August, 1961, he joined this exciting organization, among the most fiery and adventurous of the many the Blakey has led. When Art takes young musicians under his wing they pretty quickly blossom out and such was the case with Walton. Blakey gave him his head, encouraging the pianist to stretch out on solos and to develop as a composer and arranger. Cedar produced a series of attractive originals -Mosaic, Plexis, Shaky Jake, Ugetsu, One Flight Down- which the Messengers recorded. And he contributed some nice arrangements like Yes I Can and Lorna's Here to the book too. In all, this three-year association was invaluable experience for Walton and rounded off his very thorough apprenticeship.

Ira Gitler aptly summed up the pianist thusly, "Cedar Walton features a clear, crisp attack and logical, lyrical, uncluttered thinking in a completely unaffected style." It is a wholly satisfying style rooted in Bud Powell but free of cliche or smart contortions. Above all it is valid and honest style that gives the listener that glow which all good jazz stimulates. You will feel it radiate immediately from the opening bars of Turquoise Twice and it will be with you right through to the conclusion of Come Sunday -and after. This special feeling is one of the reasons why Eddie Harris insists on using Cedar for record dates. And singer Abbey Lincoln obviously found it helpful because she too has employed Walton as musical director and accompanist.

There are four new Walton compositions in this set. They are fresh, varied structures that indicate the writer's continuing musical growth and willingness to explore his considerable imagination to its fullest potential. Turquoise Twiceand Twilight Waltz strike me as being two of the most attractive tunes he has yet come up with. Also exemplary is the overall programming and thoughtful arrangements of each piece. On side one Cedar is showcased in quintet, quartet and trio settings and variety spices the three selections of the reverse of the album.

As I mentioned earlier trumpeter Kenny Dorham was among the first leaders to hire Cedar and in fact it was on a Dorham record entitled Blue Spring that I had my first pleasurable encounter with the Walton piano back in the late 50s. However Cedar's choice of Kenny is no old pals act: he genuinely feels (and who would dispute it) that KD is among the finest trumpeters around. Kenny seems to sound better and better every year and that's saying something considering he was a top-notcher in 1946! His unique tone and fluency have rarely been heard to such good advantage as on this date. His list of credits hardly needs to be familiar to Prestige students. He made his first record date for the label with J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins and Max Roach)as long ago as 1949 and has regularly cropped up on many memorable Prestige sessions since. His album Quiet Kenny (Prestige/New Jazz 8225) is a prized item in many a collection and ranks with the greatest trumpet and rhythm LPs in my estimation. Lately Kenny has taken up his pen to write a series of witty and insightful reviews in the pages of Down Beat. But you will hear that he has not been neglecting his playing, despite this new interest. Typical of this exceptional musician's inquisitiveness in different sounds is his use of a motor cycle crash helmet as a mute! The experiment is justified by the delightful effect it achieves during his exciting Turquoise Twice solo.

Junior Cook, the other horn heard on three tracks, is a woefully underestimated tenor saxophonist who plays hard, straight and true. But his four years solid service with Horace Silver endeared him to every lover of virile jazz. And since then with longstanding partner Blue Mitchell as co-leader of a group in the Silver vein, he's been blowing up a storm. Juniors a real craftsman.

Behind the three solo voices are a couple of old buddies from the West Coast -bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Billy Higgins. They did a lot of cooking together in the excellent Teddy Edwards-Joe Castro Quartet a few years ago. When producer Don Schlitten heard that Leroy was in town (New York that is) for a few days he through it would be great to reunite this tremendous rhythm team. And good gracious his idea paid heavy dividends. The pair slipped into their propulsive groove right away and everything jellied. Leroy, incidentally, was bassist in Kenny Dorham combo once so this was no meeting of strangers.

The modally-inclined Turquoise Twice at a brisk tempo is the perfect opener. Instead of the ordinary unison statement Cedar outlines the pleasing theme. Kenny's solo is a peach and Cedar's utilises the upper reaches of the keyboard. Billy and Leroy drive like mad. And Junior is certainly in fiery fettle.

Twilight Waltz, the second Walton tune, has a glorious piano introduction and solo to match. Cedar's chording reminds me a little of Walter Bishop. Kenny Dorham is an expert in 3/4 time -remember the Waltz album he did with Max Roach?- and it shows. Junior lays out for this title.

My Ship, Teh durable Gershwin-Weill song which Miles Davis revived, gets a very original treatment by Cedar, Leroy and Billy. The melody is caressed by Cedar in devoted fashion. Then the swinging starts and the piano flows under supple hands and inventive mind. A trio like this takes some beating.

Brevity being the soul of wit, Short Stuff is naturally brief (in construction), witty and full of soul. It's a simple playfully and there are also good spots for Leroy, walker supreme, and Billy who exchanges dialogue with trumpet and piano.

In contrast, Head and Shoulders, is a more advanced and tricky Walton chart and the composer takes the bulk or the solo weight save for a musicianly and suspenseful drum solo by Billy. Cedar is full of surprises in his fluent excursion.

Lastly is Come Sunday by Duke Ellington. This Walton arrangement begins in 6/8 but later it's four in a bar. There's clever interweaving by Kenny and Junior behind Cedar on this mover. Cook again impresses; Walton is relaxed and tasteful. The end -now turn the record over and play it again. You will want to.

Somehow I don't think Cedar Walton will be ignored after this splendid release. Those who still let him slip by will be losers indeed.

Side A:
Turquoise Twice
Twilight Waltz
My Ship

Side B:
Short Stuff
Head And Shoulders
Come Sunday

Cedar Walton sample tracks recorded from vinyl
Phono Cartridge comparison tracks Denon DL103 to Ortofon Tonar with OM5e stylus
FLAC File Compression
-Short Stuff
Size: 83.86 MB


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