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Judi Silvano/Mal Waldron: Riding a Zephyr

If everything had gone according to plan, right about now Judi Silvano and Mal Waldron would be wowing audiences up and down the Eastern seaboard with live renditions of the 10 tracks that shape their bold, exhilarating Riding a Zephyr. Sadly, though, Waldron, the legendary expat composer/arranger/pianist whose brilliant career crossed paths with everyone from Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln to Charles Mingus and Steve Lacy, died unexpectedly at age 76 in early December 2002.

Masterful from beginning to end, Riding a Zephyr is a dark, angular album, gray as winter twilight and dense as mulled wine. Combining the blunt precision of Annie Ross and the polished timbre of Mel Torme (not to mention similarly superlative scat instincts), Silvano-who remains the darling of jazz critics but sorely underappreciated by record buyers-shimmers through eight Waldron classics (three of which have been refitted with her own lyrics) and two self-penned compositions. Her opening spin through “You” is breezily romantic, providing a cunning counterpoint to the stark desolation of “Finding My Love” (instrumentally known as “Empty Street”). The dreamily relaxed “Soul Eyes,” long a part of Silvano’s solo repertoire, hints at the delicate beauty of Michel Legrand’s “The Summer Knows,” while “Eyes on You,” adapted from Waldron’s “One by One,” suggests the disturbing musings of a delusional stalker. Silvano’s “Dust,” wrapped in jagged African tones as menacing as a hungry tiger, is the polar opposite of her title track, comforting as a candlelit procession yet eerie as an empty cathedral.

For his part, Waldron indulges in several long, luxurious solos that, particularly on “Soul Eyes” and “Finding My Love,” secure his rightful place somewhere near the midpoint of Monk and Bill Evans. The closing track, based on the peppery “Flickers” and reshaped (with a little help from Silvano’s husband, Joe Lovano) as a lively tribute to Waldron’s genius, provides a rollicking history of his dazzling accomplishments, concluding with a reminder that “he’s got a special place within the world of jazz.” Indeed.

Originally Published