Mal Waldron Quintets – Soul Note/Black Saint Records box set (4 CDs)

by | Apr 30, 2012 | Jazz CD Reviews

Mal Waldron Quintets – Soul Note/Black Saint Records (2012) BKS 1074 (Complete Re-mastered Recordings 4 CDs) **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] 1/2:
(Mal Waldron – piano; Woody Shaw – trumpet, flugelhorn (Discs 1 & 2); Charlie Rouse – tenor saxophone, flute (Discs 1 & 2); Reggie Workman – bass; Ed Blackwell – drums (Discs 1 & 2); Sonny Fortune – alto saxophone (Discs 3 & 4); Ricky Ford – tenor saxophone (Discs 3 & 4); Eddie Moore – drums (Discs 3 & 4)
As jazz rolled into the seventies, the golden age of bop receded into a variety of hybrid genres. An Italian label, Soul Note Records (in addition to its companion Black Saint Records) became a viable outlet for “free jazz”.  Their roster of artists (who recorded in Milan during world tours) was substantive, including pianist Mal Waldron. A box set of four recordings (with producer Giovanni Bonandrini) has been re-mastered for a new generation of jazz fans to enjoy.
Disc 1: Mal Waldron Quintet – The Git Go – Live At The Village Vanguard – Soul Note Records (1987), 45:50, *****:
Consisting of two extended tracks, The Git Go – Live At The Village Gate is a complex, improvisational exercise in hard bop. The opening cut (“Status Seeking”) starts off with an ominous bass and piano line that is joined by the drum and trumpet/sax chorus. Charlie Rouse is the first soloist. His tenor runs are free-wheeling and push the instrumental tonality. Waldron, Reggie Workman and Ed Blackwell are a dynamic rhythm section, and provide an intense undercurrent to the saxophone. Rouse is both fluid and dissonant, with a halting delivery. At the six minute mark, Woody Shaw joins in. His trumpet play is quick, with a handful of trills and upper register that add a jagged resonance to the jam. At the 10:30 interval, Waldron enters with his unique combination of hard chords and right hand notation. Workman (with subtle backup by Blackwell who also has two great solos) shows some creativity on his instrument. The overall arrangement constructs a stark tension that reflects the urban narrative.
The title cut has a bluesy feel with a slower groove. Revolving around a minor chord, the austere tempo is captured with steady drum accents and deliberate, unrelenting piano chords. This frees up Rouse to be expressive. Workman is flexible and reacts to rhythm and the soloist. Waldron gives a staccato-like run against the drumming (Again, Blackwell is given ample opportunity to solo.) This jazzy march ends with the quintet in a final unison phrasing.
Disc 2: Mal Waldron Quintet – The Seagulls Of Kristiansund – Soul Note Records (1989), 62:51****1/2:
Also recorded at Village Gate, The Seagulls of Kristiansund maintains the same quintet lineup. Additionally, the uninhibited soloing is driven by the phenomenal rhythm trio. First is “Snake Out” which sets a blistering pace. Shaw gives a blistering performance, stretching the limits of the trumpet without being shrill. Rouse follows, matching the frenetic energy of the band. There is a controlled fury to the tempo, but it all seems cohesive. Waldron finds different rhythms with his trademark, percussive technique. Workman handles the transition with another great solo effort. “Judy” has the bouncy cache of big band swing with unison trumpet/saxophone. After Shaw and Rouse cut loose, Waldron steps up and executes an exquisite cascading, flowing solo. His sense of timing rivals pioneers like Monk and Powell.
There is a significant change of pace on the title song. Slower and melodic, there is a bowed bass and harmonic play. As Waldron sets up a measured emotional piano line, the cymbal work by Blackwell is a nice counter. Both reed and horn are mellow, and the unusual runs by Workman are idiosyncratic, altering the aesthetics.
Disc 3: Mal Waldron Quintet – Crowd Scene (1992) – Soul Note Records, 52:15 ****:
The first of two studio recordings, Crowd Scene establishes a substantial change. Two saxophonists (Ricky Ford on tenor and Sonny Fortune on alto) and drummer Eddie Moore join the new quintet. The title number starts off with a wicked left handed walking line and Workman’s almost violin-esque bowed bass. Fortune on alto, and Ford on tenor push away any tonal restraint with their wailing solos. Dissonant and even screeching, they burst out of the tight structure. Fortune rips through the upper registers before handing it off to Waldron to reconnect the groove with his downbeat style. Ford enters with a smooth lower register jam. Workman shows his instinctive nature with some note-bending theatrics.
In contrast, “Yin And Yang” seems more traditional, featuring a muscular piano solo by Waldron. Ford adds a fluid tenor segment, that fits the up tempo swing. Eventually Fortune blasts off with shrieking fury. The quintet manages to stay fresh, despite the lengthy (both over 25 minutes) explorations.
Disc 4: Mal Wadron Quintet – Where Are You? (1994) – Soul Note Records, 58:57 ****:
Waldron exhibits his sentimental side with his heartfelt cover of “Where Are You”. Using his aggressive playing style on a surprisingly brief (just over 5 minutes) solo performance, a tender interpretation sets a different tone for this album. “Waltz For Marianne” invokes this classic jazz tempo in a tune that gives the ensemble to improvise and solo individually and as a unit.
A Reggie Workman penned composition (“Wha’s Nine”) pursues avant-garde freestyle. Both reed players riff around the steady pulse of Waldron, Workman and Moore. There is a cacophonous ending that is effective. For fans of Waldron’s play, there is a second take of “Where Are You”.
The Mal Waldron Quintet Box Set is wild and wonderful.
Disc One (The Git Go – Live At Village Vanguard): Status Seeking; The Git Go
Disc Two (The Seagulls Of Kristiansund): Snake Out; Judy; The Seagulls Of Kristiansund
Disc Three (Crowd Scene): Crowd Scene; Yin And Yang
Disc Four: (Where Are You?): Where Are You? (Take I); Waltz For Marianne; Wha’s Nine?; Where Are You (Take II)
—Robbie Gerson

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