Cedar Walton: Roots

Cedar Walton is an heir to those class acts that have made the piano so often the repository of the orchestral voice of jazz: The line that gave us Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, and Nat Cole; Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan; Sir Roland Hanna and Kenny Barron. Here he gets a chance to give voice to his muse through a larger ensemble: the core trio of Walton, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Lewis Nash is augmented by an ensemble of trumpet, trombone, three saxophones and percussion. The solo spots go to a trio of guest stars: Joshua Redman on tenor, Terence Blanchard on trumpet and Mark Whitfield on guitar. The repertoire is all Cedar’s, and no scent of mothballs here: from the opener, “Boliva,” to the closer, “Firm Roots,” the compositions sound fresh-benefitting from these new arrangements and from the range of solo styles that play over them. If I single out Blanchard’s work as rising to the leader’s level, that is not to say that Redman and Whitfield don’t turn in strong performances: Whitfield has great range and melodic sense, and Redman seems totally at ease, playing to his colleagues and not to the crowd.