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Mal Waldron - On Steinway (Fuel 2000/Varese Sarabande)

27 March 2006

MAL WALDRON (1926-2002) has long been one of my favorite pianists (see my lengthy review of three of his albums in BT Issue 53), but I’m particularly happy to have this on CD (it reappeared last year thanks to one of the more adventurous reissue labels) because it’s the only album I’ve ever truly worn out on vinyl, a quarter-century ago when I was in college. Back then, I’d never heard a solo piano record like this May 11, 1972 session, and it’s still unique to me. Four tracks, all brilliant, all using a free structure defined by left-hand vamps ranging from single chords to more elaborate progressions, over which Waldron’s right hand roams freely. “Portrait of a Bullfighter” has an apt flamenco feel. “One for Bud” pays tribute to BUD POWELL, an important influence on Waldron as well as on so many other pianists. “For Erik Satie” is the one-chord vamp, a meditative ballad.

And then comes the track I wore out, the majestic side-long “Paris Reunited,” with an ascending ground bass over which Waldron embroiders bluesy turns before going through a rumbling, tension-filled free section, a quietly ruminative part that undulates through three chords and then gets slimmed down to two, an impressionist/expressionist skein of wild chords, a syncopated passage that builds to ferocious intensity and then becomes darkly lyrical, organically morphing into another powerful vamp but with herky-jerky spasms, a return to the thick wild chords now with interspersed arpeggios followed by a section that ties together several strands of preceding sections and steamrolls into another vamp, and finishes with a dramatic decrescendo to a quiet stop. It’s an 18-1/2 minute masterpiece of spur-of-the-moment composition. [ Described in a breathless compendium of musical criticism as well… -ed.]