4. Mal Waldron Trio (from Blood and Guts, Futura, 1970)
Some have called the Mal Waldron of the second half of his career (the one who emerged from a 1963 drug overdose as a changed pianist) “evil Mal.” That’s the Waldron who plays on this 1970 live date in Paris, with a French trio. His basecamp on “My Funny Valentine” is a low left-hand drone, which bassist Patrice Caratini reinforces with monotones that alternate between fingered throbs and bowed glowers. Even when he breaks out of the drone sections, though, Waldron avoids getting too caught up in playing the changes; he quickly states the chord (sometimes just the root) at the top of each bar, then focuses on melody and (especially) rhythm to carry it through, giving slight glances, at best, to the tune as written. (The most harmonically dense passage here, in fact, is an extended quote from “Ol’ Man River.”) If it establishes an idiosyncratic sound for Waldron, it also gives the song a dark, eerie cast that is unlike any other interpretation.