Mal Waldron With Eric Dolphy
Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 27, 1961.
Recorded At - Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
The Quest, like 1960s Atlantic double live Mingus at Antibes is proof that putting stylistically similar saxophonists together in the studio is nowhere near as exciting as letting contrasting personalities battle it out. The soloing from Booker Ervin on tenor and Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet (plus a rare and deliciously mellow B flat clarinet appearance on "Warm Canto") is scintillating. Recorded less than three weeks before Eric Dolphy teamed up with another late lamented Booker (Little, on trumpet) for the legendary Five Spot dates, The Quest is an outstandingly original (and unjustly neglected) sextet date under the leadership of pianist and composer Mal Waldron (famous for his later partnership with saxophonist Steve Lacy but best-known as Billie Holiday's last pianist). "Status Seeking" is a rip-roaring cop chase of a theme, locked tight into its revolving minor third riffs before Dolphy blows the whole structure open with one of his finest solos on record, after which Ervin and Waldron (have to) return to the Phrygian mode of the theme. "Duquility" and "Warp and Woof" both feature Ron Carter's lyrical cello playing (under-recorded and unfairly criticised as out of tune, but wonderfully compatible with Dolphy's tonal explorations on both his and Carter's earlier Prestige albums Where? and Out There). "Thirteen" is an intricate study in isorhythm worthy of Gunther Schuller's Third Stream concept, but once more the fire of Dolphy's playing (also evident on several Third Stream albums) and the passion of Ervin's transcend the academicism of the composition. "We Diddit" on the other hand, keeps thematics to a minimum to allow Dolphy and Ervin maximum runway space for takeoff. Pianist Waldron, while contributing some elegant Powell-like linear bop solos, is quite content to ride the hard-swinging rhythm section of Joe Benjamin and Charlie Persip and leave center stage to Carter, Ervin and Dolphy. The contrast between the horn players is most apparent on the 5/4 blues "Warp and Woof," where Ervin sticks to the preaching blues scale while Dolphy contributes angular snippets of birdsong worthy of Olivier Messiaen. There's no deadly pressure to annihilate each other though: collaboration is the name of the game, and the gracefully loping "Fire Waltz" dances the album to a close with perfection.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
The Quest is an apt title for a Mal Waldron album, because this wiry pianist-composer has become one of the most probing and meaningfully unpredictable forces in modern jazz. Now thirtyfive, Mal has led his own trio in recent years, and has also been accompanist for Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, and Oscar Brown. As accomplished an accompanist as he is, Mal's primary area of concentration remains the development of his own singular place as pianist, leader, and composer.
In this multiply challenging album, Mal has continued to explore new possibilties in jazz forms and meters, and in exceptionally enlivening company. Mal chose Joe Benjamin to be the anchor of the rhythm section because "he's always so dependable and I know that I never have to worry about anything in his area." Charlie Persip, an insatiably curious musician, is unusually alert and flexible. "Also," Mal adds, "he brings a lot of fire to whatever he's doing." Eric Dolphy, of course, is as irretrievably committed to a perpetual musical quest as is Mal, and the two have established a mutually stimulating bond. Booker Ervin became best known for his work with Charles Mingus, and the fact that he has not yet achieved major recognition is inexplicable to this observer and to Mal. "He's so exciting a player,' Mal underlines, "aside from the freshness of his imagination and the force fulness of his beat." Ron Carter, who is a superior bassist, has also become the most skilful and wide-ranging cellist in jazz.
Status Seeking reflects what Mal terms "the hustle and bustle of the way we live. Everybody's trying to make it, and I try to show here the two main ways in which that struggle is carried on - some guys are pushing just to get there first and to make it in a materialistic way. Other guys, John Coltrane, for instance, are pushing to realize their fullest potential as musicians, and that's the kind of status I identify with." In the piece, Mal elaborates on several ideas concerning tension-and-release on which he's worked in previous compositions. The line itself consists of long sounds and then breaks into shorter segments. "It's like the process of status-seeking itself," Mal explains, "in that it's a continual round of tension and release and then tension again." Another element of the work is that the chords on which the solos are based are not entirely the same as the harmonies underneath the basic melody. "We kept the mood of the melody in the solos," says Mal, "but each player had more liberty in the changes he could use." And the song does indeed bristle with the pressures and brief moments of surcease that are bone-familiar to a all of us trying to get off the urban treadmill.
Duquility, as its title indicates, is Mal's attempt to indicate the particular quality of tranquility which Duke Ellington attains in his music. "I've always liked," Mal adds, "the kind of relaxed, peaceful feeling Duke can get in his ballads. It's a dream quality and yet it makes you think too." Duke, incidentally, has been one of the three primary influences on Mal's work. The other two are Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. After the fierce intensity of Status Seeking, Duquility is a fulfilling contrast. It's a particularly sensitive theme, and its unfolding by Ron Carter and Mal combines the serenity and thought fulness which Mal has noted are at the core of Duke's own ballads.
In form, Duquility is described by Mal as "a kind of pocket ballad." Instead of the usual form of eight bars, a repeat of the first eight, an eight-bar bridge, and a final eight, Duquility is shaped in a 2-6-4-4 form.
Thirteen is an intriguing experiment in organizing a piece. Mal took a design formed of thirteen notes. They're first played by all the instruments in a rhythmic framework chosen by Mal. Then the cello begins playing them six beats a piece. Nine bars later, the tenor enters, playing them thre'e beats a piece. Four and a half bars beyond that point, the alto plunges in, playing them with the value of a dotted quarter-note apiece. In another bar and a half, Mal enters, playing them in quarters. For the solos, beginning with Eric Dolphy, the thirteen notes in the melody become the root of each chord in the harmonic pattern beneath the improvising. Mal made minor chords of some and major chords of others, but the point is that the melody has been transmuted into the base for the harmony. It is not strict serial technique in that some of the notes are repeated before the whole row is played, but the idea did
come from the tone-row conception of many contemporary classical composers. As you can hear, there is nothing academic about the playing. Once having assimilated the blueprint of the tune, the musicians brought their own conceptions to its development.
We Diddit takes its title from the actual sound of the two sixteenth notes which are the core of the piece (did-dit). "I put the 'we' on after it was over," says Mal, "because we did do it." Again, as in Status Seeking, Mal saw no reason "why the changes have to sit under the solos in the same way as they sit under the melody." Accordingly, changes that are telescoped underneath the melody become expanded over more bars in the blowing sections.
Warm Canto is built on the Phrygian mode - EFGABCDE- except that Mal has added an F# to the top."It's an odd mode," says Mal. "I've heard it sound both cold and warm. Here it's warm, but warm like on a brisk day. The sun is shining, and you can feel the warmth of its rays, but you're not sweating." The melody itself is only eight bars long. The term "canto" is used here as a form of poetic license. Eric Dolphy's clarinet solo is one of his more disciplined and evocative on records, and Ron Carter's pizzicato cello solo is beautifully controlled. Mal himself, as is usual in his interpretation of this kind of piece, communicates both lyricism and tensile strength.
The title for Warp and Woof came from a&r man Eddie Edwards because the texture of the number called to his mind the pattern of threads (the woof) being woven back and forth against the fixed threads of the warp in a loom. The number is in 5/4, and a very short statement sets the mood for the solos. This choice of meter exemplifies Mai's constant interest in different jazz rhythm patterns. "I became particularly intrigued with 5/4," he says, "while working with Max Roach, because it's a meter with which he often experiments." This particular use of the meter provid'es a quasi-hypnotic effect underneath the solos.
The final Fire Waltz is in 3/4, another rhythmic area in which Mal likes to search. The work has a distinctive kind of tranquility of its own, a characteristic Mal Waldron combination of order and freshness of direction. For Mal Waldron, and for his listeners, his musical quest is bound to remain constantly provocative, because an essential part of the search is that it is without limits. And, as this and his other albums have made clear, Mal has the technique, musicianship, and unfettered imagination to find continually new and substantial surprises along the way.
- Nat Hentoff