Jazz

Madlib/Donald Byrd: “Stepping into Tomorrow”/“Distant Land” (Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note, 2003) plus more

For x-number of months I did a “Madlib” (on Madlib’s discography). With numerous interruptions, living my life, doing my work, listening to other music, I focussed my attention on trying to hear as much as I could of his music, across the various releases, genres, decades, inspirations. This partly reflects my OCD-aspect, the desire to hold onto an essence of something as a system, to see how it works together. When gaining knowledge, I like to be able to get a sense of how things fit, as if there’s always a broader logic waiting to be uncovered.

It also reflects the fact that this discovery came about via YouTube - a bossy task-mistress insisting on certain tracks, repeating them over and over as recommendations until I heard them. Many of these picks, coming from some algorithm consciousness were Madlib tracks, or Madlib associated projects. The process took on a life of its own and lasted for a while.

The process was also a way of assessing the constancy of my own preferences and tastes; as a barometer, litmus test. Allowing for diversity, among genres, but being constant within them. This sounds egotistical perhaps, but I think it’s useful for writers to be simple and upfront in terms of all this. It’s much more interesting (for me) to think about what this/that preference says about the person, rather than to hear aspects of autobiography in the critical appraisals, in that this music helped a writer psychologically, when they were down or something. (Let alone some writer presenting themselves as the arbiter of universal taste).

I really don’t trust this self-disclosure either. If, when you’re affected by something painful the last thing you’d want to do is listen to someone else go deep into their suffering. What you want is to forget. But this might again reflect something about the way I listen to music. There are plenty of songs that I might have listened to in bad times, but it wasn’t because I could relate to the lyrics, usually it was something about the quality of the sounds, or the voice of the singer.    

I sincerely believe that we are all predisposed to liking certain sounds, and this says something about ourselves and our histories. It’s as if these sounds click with something internal in us, as if making manifest something in our DNA. It’s not the music itself that we like, but how it activates something in us. This reaction does not have to be anything particularly deep, or representative of anything bigger (I’m with Cage here, a sound is a sound it does not have to mean anything).    

Throughout this “Madlib immersion”, I was surprised by something: I had thought that with my background listening to a lot of jazz over the decades, it would be the jazz-inspired Madlib work that would impress me most. What I found there – often, not always, was that this music seemed a little contained, as if he was self-conscious about his own debt, or admiration. This limited the achievement and squashed what makes Madlib’s music most interesting for me, the experimentation and freedom you can find there. Of course, there were exceptions, such as this:

This is an extraordinary piece of music, listen to the thwack of that bassline/drum interplay, something that has come back more recently in Madlib’s beats – see many of the Bad Neighbor instrumentals, for instance or the forthcoming Bandana album with Freddie Gibbs. Here, containment is a positive quality in itself: the way it simplifies the original melody from the 1975 album.

What’s striking is the way Madlib doesn’t use the trumpet line at all, or if he does it’s there as a detail, rather than the central focus. This is interesting and perverse (considering that it’s by Donald Byrd – why use the piece to ignore its central motif and the essence of its origins?) Madlib’s reworking simplifies it, makes it dense and uncomplicated.

The original piece was similarly simple – in its intention, but not its execution. Listening to it now, perhaps this is enhanced by my bad sound system, it’s all fluttery and high-end, wavery, which is attractive, but far removed from the way Madlib turned it into an almost late 70s disco-funk song.

The first piece from Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note that I was kind of obsessed with was “Distant Land” – now it feels like a photograph almost, it’s not so important to me. This is the one with the drums that break the music, sounding over-present, but also add to the overall feeling of naivety. Just over two minutes in, I liked the way the sounds separated from each other – becoming individualised, solitary elements on display – but what I really loved and still appreciate is the way you expect the trumpet to come back, again it’s Donald Byrd after all, but it doesn’t.

This is wonderful and strange; the entire piece seems to be so accessible (that boom bap type drum pattern etc) and then denies our expectations at the crucial moment. This appeals to me, I like this. Then, when the trumpet does return about a minute later, it’s so quiet, you can hardly hear it.

The original (unreleased) Donald Byrd piece from 1972 has a very distinctive quality, it sounds half-asleep, but the trumpet line as you’d expect is clear and prominent (unlike the way it was re-imagined by Madlib, three or so decades later):

Listening to the original Donald Byrd track now, after a few months from my previous time listening to it – I didn’t like it much before, it struck me as overly smooth, easy listening, lacking spirit - my instincts are proven right, as in expecting the trumpet to return or be more prominent in the Madlib version. The track follows a traditional jazz set up, two or perhaps more solos (what sounds like a vibraphone, then piano solo, there might be a solo before this) to return to the leader of the group on trumpet, in what is deeply satisfying, as expected. Byrd returns with a majestic half-solo around 5’30” (you can almost imagine the audience applause).    

There are other songs, which I might even like more than the two I’ve written about here, “Mystic Bounce” say or “Montara” but this writing is a good example of what I was mentioning at the outset. What you end up writing on often is different to what the original impulse was, for questions of ease or simplicity, or getting carried away with something. Rather than discussing the album in full, I’ll leave it there: two songs inspired by Donald Byrd. That makes sense.

This was meant to be an introduction to writing on some Madlib instrumentals, no problem, I’ll come back to them another time.     

Coda x 2:

Versions: Randy Weston "Ganawa (Blue Moses)" - 1972, 1991, 2006, 2013, plus interviews & live performances

“Mozart belongs to me, Dizzy Gillespie belongs to me. There’s no separation because each are geniuses and through music they described where they live. I love Russian music, with Stravinsky you hear the spirit of the people, so if we look at music as one, which I do, we have a lot to learn.”

Randy Weston, Interview - 50th Montreux Jazz Festival 2016



“In 1969, two years after relocating from Brooklyn to Tangier, Morocco, Randy Weston, then 43, attended a Lila—a Gnawa spiritual ceremony of music and dance—that transformed his consciousness and changed his life. In a remarkable chapter of his autobiography, African Rhythms (co-authored with Willard Jenkins), Weston recounted that although Gnawan elders, concerned for a non-initiate’s well-being, were reluctant to allow him to attend the all-night affair, he persisted, telling them that “perhaps the spirits [were] directing me to do this.” As has often happened during the iconic pianist-composer’s long career, he charmed them into seeing things his way.

Gnawa cosmology applies a different color—and a different rhythm and song—to each deity, and at a certain point during the proceedings, the musicians played dark blue for “the sky spirit with all that the sky represents—greatness, beauty, ambiguity, etc.” Weston’s “mind had been blown.”  Invited back the following night “to experience the color black,” he declined. Later, Gnawas with knowledge of these things told Weston that he had found his color.

“I’m not an ethnomusicologist or a spiritualist, but when you’re with these people long enough you don’t laugh at this stuff,” Weston wrote. How else to explain why Weston entered a two-week trance? “I was physically moving and otherwise going through my normal life, but I was in another dimension because this music was so powerful,” he explained. “Imagine hearing the black church, jazz, and the blues all at the same time.”

Ted Panken, “For Randy Weston’s 89th Birthday, A Recent DownBeat article (2015)


“Ganawa (Blue Moses)” Blue Moses, CTI, 1972

Live Recording: Alice Coltrane, "Africa" (Live at Carnegie Hall, 21.02.72, w/Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil McBee, Jimmy Garrison, Clifford Jarvis, Ed Blackwell)

Alice Coltrane - Live At Carnegie Hall (1972)

Personnel: Alice Coltrane: harp, p, perc Pharoah Sanders: ts, ss, fl, perc Archie Shepp: ts, ss, perc Cecil McBee: b Jimmy Garrison b Clifford Jarvis: d Ed Blackwell: d Tulsi: tamboura Kumar Kramer: harm Rec. 1972

“Twilight Song” Charlie Haden/Kenny Barron (Night and the City, Verve, 1998) plus “Sunshower” versions

Label: Verve/ Released: 1998/Genre: Jazz/Style: Easy Listening

“The third in a series of Charlie Haden duet projects for Verve in the 1990s finds the increasingly nostalgia-minded bass player working New York City's Iridium jazz club with pianist Kenny Barron. Moreover, it is entirely possible that we are getting a skewed view of the gig; according to Haden, he and his co-producer wife Ruth tilted this album heavily in the direction of romantic ballads, eliminating the bebop and avant-garde numbers that the two may have also played at the club. Be that as it may, this is still a thoughtful, intensely musical, sometimes haunting set of performances, with Barron displaying a high level of lyrical sensitivity and Haden applying his massive tone sparingly. Most of the seven tracks are fantasias on well-known standards, although one of the most eloquent performances on the disc is Barron's playing on his own "Twilight Song." If Haden deliberately set out to create a single reflective mood, he certainly succeeded, although those coming to Haden for the first time through this and most of his other '90s CDs would never suspect that this man once played such a fire-breathing role in the jazz avant-garde.”

AllMusic review, Richard S.Ginnel

What saves this music, or transforms it, elevates it above any designation as “easy listening” are the instances where Kenny Barron toughens his performance by introducing a kind of syncopated groove. This happens just after 5’30” then about a minute later and finally around 11’20”. Those brief shifts remind me of earlier pianists, earlier recordings and historical moments now passed, thus enforcing the piece’s nostalgic mood. Pianists such as Art Tatum or Duke Ellington shielding their less virtuosic selves, when they keep it still and quiet (with constant sparks of brilliance and surprise).

The way the music returns after the bass solo too is a moment of pure understated loveliness, as are the opening and closing sections.

A lot of contemporary (pop-inflected) music is said to reference Satie, perhaps wanting to connect with his music’s unadulterated melody without understanding the way he radically upturned previous tradition, blending high/low culture (let alone his eccentric, even odd theories and behaviour). John Cage cited him as a key, “indispensable” influence, as did other key members of the twentieth century US. avant-garde, while Ravel called his music “brilliant and clumsy.” See this 2015 article from the Guardian by Meurig Bowen on Satie’s later, more revolutionary music and then another article one year later marking the 150th anniversary of his birth. I thought about Satie when listening to this piece – the opening, closing - but also in the way the music encourages us to look beyond the liminal sweetness. A lot of the most popular jazz, even that by great artists – see Chet Baker – appears to be surface-only, pretty and diversionary, but here in those brief instances Barron signals other forms of Black American music and thus adds depth. Breaking the music down, making it emblematic.

The piece was recorded at the Iridium Room Jazz Club In 1996, a place that according to Wik was: “a basement room below the Merlot restaurant across from Lincoln Center; it initially booked "traditional, swinging jazz musicians of the second or third level"; Ronald Sturm, the club's manager and booker, told The New York Times his goal was to "hire people like the trumpeter Marcus Printup, or Cyrus Chestnut or Carl Allen"— the goal was to give a chance to "younger, mainstream musicians while still booking the legends."

Here’s a performance of Kenny Barron’s famous song “Sunshower” (solo piano), apologies about the amateur fan/listener video:

that became a standard covered by so many prominent jazz musicians, Ron Carter on his 1977 Piccolo LP among others and was first released on Sonny Fortune’s Awakening album in 1975. This is a beautiful performance, with Barron playing his composition, especially the final two minutes with that hard to place echoing sound. (Alto saxophone, flute, claves, shaker – Sonny Fortune piano – Kenny Barron bass – Wayne Dockery drums – Billy Hart. Recorded September 9, 1975 at Sound Ideas, New York City).

And the Kenny Barron recording in his own name from his Innocence LP three years later.

"Killaz Theme," writing on Cormega, betrayal and justice in hip-hop and other genres

“[Intro]
Heh heh, yea
Hahahaha, right
Part the crowd like the Red Sea
Don’t even tempt me ”

Genre: Hip-Hop Style: Thug Rap, Conscious


Towards the end of a 2015 interview with Dead End Hip Hop (DEHH) that’s equal parts monologue and free-form talk, New York rapper Cormega says that remaking his début album The Realness was always an option, but that he wanted to do something more, something different to reflect his changed perspective. The man who made the music more than one decade ago was not the same one speaking today. “If we go back to the year of The Testament, (2005) I would have had at least 14 more friends physically still breathing, I would have no kids ...” Not only that, throughout the interview the Queensbridge MC stressed how he was aware of his position as a role model, as someone who could show others ways to move forward in their lives.

One of the DEHH team had suggested that his album Mega Philosophy was “preachy” in parts, then later clarified that he missed the “charismatic Cormega” (before listing all the tracks he liked). “If you speak truths, I don’t consider it preaching, maybe I’m wrong but I don’t,” Cormega replied. “Everything else I said was to uplift us, to say we’re not at the bottom, we’re more than ni**as standing on a corner dealing, jail is a business trying to employ our children, and destroy our mental; every day we’re more conditioned to conform to ignorance …” Starting to rhyme, momentum building as he interspersed lines about how he sees the world around him today with references to African lineage and references to pyramids in Egypt and Sudan to conclude that Black Americans “came from something great.”

Another DEHH host added that Cormega’s serious lyrical intent was “good preaching … (The word) preachy is now given a negative edge so when he says it sounds preachy it sounds like an insult … I say make it preachy as possible because we need that.”

READ MORE

"Sundance" - an essay on Jeanne Lee

We’re talking about our work at a roof-top bar in the 11th arrondissement where you can see Sacré-Coeur in the distance. The woman teases me with light humour and kindness about the emphasis of my writing; she says that she plans on returning to Senegal, the country where her father was born to find work in an organisation that makes connections between Dakar and Paris. Recently she says she attended a conference about “women in jazz.” No, no, she says laughing in response to the expression on my face, it was interesting, really. 

"Jazz is a music that combines so many opposites ... You have to find that balance, then you have a guideline between freedom and discipline, between rhythm and melody, between body and spirit, between mind and instinct."

"I feel the music like a dance, I think it's an important part of the music, it has to be felt like a dance."

Jeanne Lee  

 

Few jazz singers, or singers of any genre, could capture the same emotional depth with such ease, as self-described "a jazz singer, poet/lyricist, composer/improvisor” Jeanne Lee who died aged 61 in Mexico, 2000. Compassion, tenderness, levity and freedom can be heard in her voice. More than anything else, even from her earliest recordings and performances with Ran Blake in the 1960s, Jeanne Lee sounds at peace with herself.

Recently I’ve been ruminating about how our sense of our own identities as women, even as the years pass, is shaped by how we see ourselves in relation to others, how we think about ourselves in terms of how others see us (self as performance, performance as self). I am grateful to Jeanne Lee for the way she seems to have found a way through all this, as an artist she sounds free.

None of this was by chance. Lee’s artistry emanated from her conscious exploration of the limits and potential of performance and improvisation, to give voice to her musical gift and experience as an artist and as a Black woman in the United States (and Europe). Yet in the later years of her life, Lee expressed frustration that she didn’t have so many recordings to her name (a consequence of raising children, she said) and that the multi-faceted nature of her achievement had not been recognised.

READ MORE

Ibrahim Maalouf (“Beirut,” Kalthoum, Diasporas and more)

I consider my mother language, my musical mother language to be Arabic music. I was born into this culture. The music I know the most is Arabic music.”

Ibrahim Maalouf

Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1980 trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf grew up in the suburbs around Paris. Both of his parents are professional musicians: his mother is the pianist, Nadia Maalouf and his father, Nassim Maalouf is the noted trumpeter and inventor of the micro-tonal trumpet that allows musicians to play the sounds specific to Arabic music called the maqams.

Here's a video where Nassim Maalouf speaks about the instrument and another where Ibrahim Maalouf speaks about the micro-tonal trumpet and plays it with a small band. Both interviews are in French. 

“I was seven years old and I used to hear my father practising the trumpet and playing, he was playing in the living-room and my room was right on top of it, so I used to hear this very soft sound. One day I said I would like to play with you, probably to spend time with him. (...) The moments I loved was when we were playing concerts, playing baroque and Arabic music, this is how I started playing the trumpet.”

Interview with Swedish student media (2014) 

Kalthoum (Mister Ibe, 2015)

Kalthoum is a celebration of women who overturned the course of history, women whose artistic influence has had an impact reaching all the way down to our lives today. So I chose an emblematic figure, a genuine monument in the history of Arab people, and incidentally someone whose voice is the one I’ve listened to the most, ever since I was a child: Oum Kalthoum.

Pianist Frank Woeste and I took one of this Egyptian diva’s greatest songs, and we “translated” it into jazz that’s rather conventional, but hopefully it innovates in the way it mixes cultures: the song is “Alf Leila Wa Leila” (“The Thousand and One Nights”). The song was composed in 1969 by Baligh Hamidi, taking the form of a suite lasting around an hour (as often in those days), with a three-minute chorus and verses of between five and twenty-five minutes. A large part of the piece is reserved for improvisation, both in the original version and in this one, but this suite is above all a series of tableaux, and the way it’s set up was very exciting to re-transcribe.

We recorded and mixed it in New York with the same crew as for the album “Wind” in 2011, which was also a homage (to Miles Davis), so I naturally thought of “Kalthoum” as continuing that fine adventure on record, with Larry Grenadier (double bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Mark Turner (saxophone) and Frank Woeste on piano.

In the interview below for the Philharmonie de Paris Ibrahim Maalouf speaks about how Kalthoum's music united the various Arabic language communities (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist); they all adored her work. He adds this work pays his respects to women in his family, and that he achieved this through the use of complex rhythms, piano and drums.    

***

Maalouf is a major musical star in France and internationally. His website, for example, notes how he is the first jazz musician to have filled France’s largest concert stadium, Paris-Bercy. Mainstream pop/rock is central to his music; he says that Michael Jackson was of equal importance for his development as a child learning to play the trumpet as the Middle Eastern music he would listen to every night before going to sleep.

Some of the climactic rock elements in his work don’t appeal to me much, triggering (bad) memories of 70s arena-rock, Led Zeppelin and the like, but there is something profoundly affecting about much of his music. See his most famous piece ‘Beirut’- this is a particularly touching live recording - released on his 2011 album Diagnostic. The way the music falls and builds inspires optimism and hope, encouraging us to continue whatever we might face.

Much the same could be said for this piece "True Sorry" from his Illusions album released five years ago.

According to Wikipedia, at his concerts Maalouf plays music in a way that will inspire his audience to dance, but also includes meditative moments that he calls instances of "collective/ universal prayer."

Diasporas (Mister Ibe, 2007)

Maalouf's album Diasporas is a wonderful work the way it combines recordings of people speaking in public alongside the music. He started work on the album when he was quite young, aged 22 or 23 and was questioning a lot. "I was recording everything happening in my life," he says."I wanted answers, I was recording the album and working on it. I was listening to the album but felt that something was missing." What was missing were these random conversations with strangers. The track above, "Hashish" includes a recording of talk in a taxi, very deep in the background so that is almost impossible to hear. 

The 2015 Red & Black Light album included a cover of Beyonce's "Run The World (Girls)" with a political video accompanying it. The opening scene, dated 2027, includes a news announcement about how the curfew that affects foreigners is being undermined by groups of women who are encouraging French-born people to mix with those of immigrant origins. The walls of the meeting-place are plastered with posters from France's far-right party, the National Front, saying "France for the French" and "No to massive (unchecked) immigration."

Reminicent Suite, Mal Waldron/Terumasa Hino (Victor, 1973)

Personnel: Bass – Isao Suzuki Drums – Motohiko Hino Percussion – Uzi Imamura Piano–Mal Waldron Tenor Saxophone – Takao Uematsu Trumpet – Terumasa Hino

    'It's part of my personality to be very economical with what I have and to use it in all variations before I move to the next set of notes.'

    Pareles, Jon (September 10, 1982) "Pop/Jazz: Mal Waldron, Expatriate, Brings Quintet to Town" The New York Times

    Mal Waldron who first gained fame for his role as in house pianist/composer at Prestige Records and as Billie Holiday’s accompanist (from 1957 until her death in 1959) had a parallel career of great success in Europe as well as a close personal/professional connection with Japan.

    Much attention has been given to the Paris connection for Black American jazz musicians, but less to their links to other European centres; Waldron moved to Munich in 1967 (where he helped launch the ECM label and appeared on its first release) before moving to Brussels in the 90s. Wiks describes Waldron’s technique that developed during his European residence:

    'From the time he moved to Europe, Waldron played mostly in a free style, while being able to play in a more traditional style when the audience or situation required it. He used thick chords in the lower bass register; his emphasis on weight, texture and frequent repetition of a single and simple motif as opposed to linear and melodic improvisation gave a heavy and dark color to his sound. One facet of his playing was, according to The Penguin Guide to Jazz, 'likened to American minimalism: a slow accretion of almost subliminal harmonic and rhythmic shifts steadily pile up until the music seems ready to overbalance.'

    While the story of the Japanese embrace, reinvention and love for jazz  that manifests not only via collaborations such as this, but also the way Japanese labels so often put out the less-known jazz releases throughout the 70s and beyond is also under-celebrated, it seems to me.

    Waldron recorded this album with a group of acclaimed Japanese musicians (bassist Isao Suzuki, for example, is known in Japan as the “Jazz Godfather” and when living in New York, 1969-1971 recorded with Ron Carter, Paul Desmond, Charles Kelly and Thelonious  Monk and was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), sitting in for their usual pianist.

    As this anonymous review from Jazz Music Archives notes, what shines through in the recording, is the ease with which Waldron melds with the group, perhaps reflecting his long training as a support person to other artists. (Some claim that he is the greatest jazz piano accompanist). Asked what makes an ideal bassist/drummer in a 2001 Ted Panken interview Waldron replied: 'They listen and they try to adapt to what you’re doing.  That’s all you need, is somebody to listen and to adapt to what you’re doing.  Be like shadows.'

    Here’s the entire Jazz Music Archives review, which is very good so I’ll reproduce it in full here:

    American pianist Mal Waldron’s music is often associated with solo piano albums or acoustic trios, but it’s less known that his music was of a different nature during the early 70s. After his relocation to Europe in 1965, he regularly recorded on local labels (most significant - for German Enja and several albums for ECM), but later, during the early 70s, he became an almost cult like figure on the Japanese jazz scene as well. Many of his best albums were recorded in Japan, or are collaborations with leading Japanese musicians.

    The obscure “Reminicent Suite” is a great example. This two-piece album was recorded in Japan during Mal’s regular Japanese tour, and finds him working with the leading Japanese trumpeter and his group, the Terumasa Hino Quintet, with Mal Waldron taking the piano chair of their regular pianist Mikio Masuda. Terumasa’s Quintet was one of the leading Japanese advanced post-bop collectives of that time, including such sound members as bass legend Isao Suzuki and drummer Motohiko Hino. Improved with Mal’s piano (during early 70s he played much freer than he did in later decades, being a regular co-leader on Steve Lacy albums among others) perfectly communicating the band’s sound as a small orchestra. “Reminicent Suite” is a Waldron composition with strong tunes, well organized and it recalls Mingus’ best works. Terumasa’s trumpet is fast, strong and almost steals the show, but Mal’s piano fits perfectly here, it sounds like he was a Quintet member for months or years. Each musician has enough space for improvisation, a great example of really collective work.

    Side B’s “Black Forest” is a shorter and more percussive composition with stronger Japanese music influence. Repetitive rhythmic structure is used as a basic line for soloists changing each other. Less orchestrated, but melodic, and of the same high intensity level, it perfectly completes side A’s “Suite..”. 

    Never released outside of Japan, this album is too obscure to be better known and more popular. It’s a real pity - this work is a true Mal Waldron and Japanese jazz masterpiece.

    Whether the first piece written by Waldron, ‘Reminicent Suite: Dig it Deep Down, Baby/ Echoes/Once More With Feeling’ or the second ‘Black Forest’ (by Terumasa Hino) appeal more to you depends on how your jazz preferences are set; I love both. The suite follows a traditional set-up of each musician having a solo, but its genius lies in the way the ‘supporting’ musicians create the environment for them to do so, most notably Waldron himself. His performance is marked by wonderful modesty and understatement (at one point he disappears entirely). His solo appears to be so simple, at one point made up of the repetition of single notes.

    Waldron suffered a severe breakdown in 1963, when he lost the capacity to play the piano. Before his breakdown, Waldron played in a lyrical way, but after it, he said that 'I couldn't find that lyricism inside myself any more, so I became a very angular player' (in a way, it is said, that resembled Thelonious Monk's performance style and composition). 

    This ‘angular’ style can be felt in this work, yet it’s not cold and unfeeling. The combination of the abstract and the emotional in Waldron’s playing might be his lasting achievement. The following analysis comes from Adam Shatz’s excellent essay ‘Free At Last: Mal Waldron’s Ecstatic Minimalism’ published in The Nation last year:  

    'Waldron’s style is invariably described as “brooding”—almost all of his pieces are in a minor key—but it could also be described as analytical. Most jazz pianists work to create an effect of outward motion when they improvise. Swing, after all, is a musical analogue of dance, and its aim is to make the body more expansive and supple. Waldron’s music appears to work in nearly the opposite direction, burrowing ever more deeply into its materials: He seems to be on an inward journey. In “The Blues Suite,” for example, the slow, winding song that takes up more than a third of Meditations, there’s an extraordinary moment where Waldron plays a descending figure in the lower registers of the piano; as it recedes, a sample from the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” rises in its wake, suggesting a shadowy recollection, or the previously erased layer of a palimpsest.

    Waldron “played every piece as if he were X-raying it,” as Edward Said once observed of Glenn Gould. He turned to music as a kind of mental exercise, a way of figuring out what he thought; his pieces were almost all “meditations.” “I want to be able to see what I am doing,” he explained, “and in order to be very clear in my mind where I am going I have to repeat it.” His search for what he called the “one note that goes for the entire piece” gives his music an almost uniquely obsessive sense of propulsion—the feeling of being in a trance.'

    In the Ted Panken interview he shared how he was classically trained as were most of the jazz musicians from his era and that much of his performance derived from that legacy and Bach in particular.  Here is another extract from the interview:

    Talk about your daily life in ’54-’55-’56-’57.

    Well, my life was consisting of thinking about the melodies in the daytime, writing them at night, and then recording them the next day.

    What did creating the Mal Waldron style entail?  A more orchestral approach to the piano?  A more compositional approach?

    Well, it entailed not thinking of changes as changes, but thinking of changes as sounds, so that a cluster would do for a change or something like that, just a group of notes — not thinking of a tonal concept, just a group of notes would be an impetus for soloing on.

    **

    To read more about jazz, follow the tags in the Blog and In Praise of sections.