Cedar Walton ‘Animation’/’Soundscapes’ (Soul Brother) 4/5

Keyboardist Cedar Walton made his name in the early to mid 1960s as part of the classic Jazz Messengers line up on Blue Note. He was an integral part of that formation and contributed with memorable compositions and outstanding pianistic performances to seminal albums such as the driving ‘Free for All’, the superlative ‘Indestructible’ and, arguably best of all, the epic ‘Mosaic’. By the end of the 1960s Cedar Walton was leading his own band, recording for Prestige and then made a series of albums in the mid-late 1970s, first of all for RCA and then for Columbia. The double pairing of albums contained within this CD are examples of the latter tenure and provide a fine contrast between, on the one hand his acoustic playing, and that in a fusion idiom. The first of these is the more straight ahead in jazz terms and probably more expansive for devotees of Walton’s pianistic talents. With a strong line up of Freddie Hubbard (reprising their Jazz Messengers partnership) on trumpet, Steve Turré on trombone and concha shell(s), a young Bob Berg on reeds and Al Foster on drums, this is an album with a distinct purpose. One of the strongest pieces is the bassline driven ‘Jacob’s ladder’ while lovers of acoustic jazz are sure to be enthralled by ‘Charmed circle’ with its Latin feel in percussion and in its use of unison horns that is reminiscent of the McCoy Tyner big band. The title track takes a leaf out of Herbie Hancock’s keyboard soloing from his mid 1970s period and it is clear that Walton was sensitive to new trends in jazz and eager to take them on board in his own manner. The second album, however, is by far the better known of the two on offer and this is largely due to the club track ‘Latin America’ which has long been a fusion favourite and rightly so. There is, though, a good deal of subtlelty in several of the compositions with ‘Sixth Avenue sounding like Walton was listening to the groove piano of Jorge Dalto while ‘Warm to the touch’ features the inestimable vocals of one Leon Thomas. Perhaps the slow burner on the album is the mid-tempo groover ‘The early generation’. At eighty minutes and with all the original album cover details, this CD pacakge represents outstanding value for money and is an accurate reflection of where Cedar Walton was at in the mid-1970s.

Tim Stenhouse