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Myron Walden: Higher Ground

“Earthy” serves as an apt description of Myron Walden’s Higher Ground (Fresh Sound New Talent), which finds the alto saxophonist in a pianoless quartet with tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland up front. It’s still all but impossible to separate Walden from the Smalls environment that so clearly shaped his voice in the latter-’90s, so it makes sense to hear that club’s free-blowing, imploring aesthetic permeating this disc. What comes as a revelation is the serpentine interplay between the two saxophonists: on “Page One” (a tune somewhat evocative of Coltrane’s “Mr. Day”) and the skittish title track (no relation to the Stevie Wonder tune), Walden and Strickland seem maniacally conjoined. Elsewhere, minimalist but effective head arrangements cast their horns together in dark and evocative harmonies. Meanwhile the rhythm section-Brandon Owens on bass and brother E.J. Strickland on drums-maintains a deeply propulsive drive whether they’re swinging full-bore or stepping around a more spacious groove. In the notes, Walden describes this repertoire as “a bit less cerebral” than his previous recorded fare. That may be true, but Higher Ground is a thoughtful set nonetheless.

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