Bill Beuttler reviews the latest release from piano great Cedar Walton
In the sure-handed notes accompanying this new release from 2010 NEA Jazz Master Cedar Walton, Fred Bouchard reminds us that Walton logged a little piano duty on the John Coltrane masterpiece Giant Steps before going on in the early ’60s to join one of the better iterations of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, alongside frontliners Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. Walton’s swinging, tasteful playing and composing have, in other words, gotten prominent airings going back a half-century or so. But like the trees whose name he shares, Walton’s work, for all its steady elegance and endurance, has a tendency to be overlooked.
Let’s hope The Bouncer changes that. Joining Walton are Vincent Herring on saxes and flute, Steve Turre on trombone (for two tracks), David Williams on bass, Willie Jones III on drums, and—on a Latinized rearrangement of Walton’s now thrice-recorded “Underground Memoirs”—Ray Mantilla on congas. The title tune kicks things off in a hard-bop vein, with bouncy interplay from the horns on the head and deft soloing all around. Walton’s Milt Jackson tribute, “Bells for Bags,” has a classic ’60s feel to it as well, though here Turre lays out. Herring’s sax is also featured on bassist Williams’ calypso-influenced “Got to Get to the Island,” as is his flute on Walton’s lovely new waltz, “Halo.”
Both horns are absent on the three tunes that remain: Walton’s onetime employer J.J. Johnson’s “Lament” and his own “Willie’s Groove” (a showcase for Jones’ drumming) and “Martha’s Prize,” which is built on intricate unison work involving piano and bass and named for Walton’s wife—said prize being Walton. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about anything on the disc, mind you. But listeners looking for new music set solidly in the postbop tradition would be hard-pressed to do better than this.