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Cedar Walton Featuring Freddie Hubbard: Live at the Keystone Korner: Reliving the Moment

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The “moment” in question occurred in late 1977; the event was the Rahsaan Roland Kirk Memorial Jazz Festival at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner. The Cedar Walton Quartet, co-headlining with Leon Thomas and Bobby Hutcherson, were joined by Walton’s old Jazz Messengers compatriot Freddie Hubbard, returning to a straight-ahead context in the wake of the trumpeter’s controversial plunge into jazz-funk fusion.

Judging by what’s here, these were three nights of hard-charging swing and unfettered creativity. Walton’s piano lines, complex and multi-textured yet resolutely straight-ahead, are powered by a percussive impetus that both complements and goads drummer Billy Higgins’ dexterous punctuations; when tenorman Bob Berg weighs in with his astringent tone and Trane-like roils and flurries, he brings a bracing element of rawness and emotive unpredictability into the mix.

We first hear Hubbard on Walton’s “Ugetsu,” a tune that dates back to the pair’s ’60s-era tenure with the Messengers. The aggression with which Hubbard fires out his hard-bop lines-blunt and confrontational, despite that soft-edged flugelhorn tone-suggests that he may have been sending a message to the purists who’d been accusing him of fusionist apostasy. (He sounds less combative but no less fired up on “Byrdlike,” his tribute to Donald Byrd, another postbop icon who’d been castigated for selling out to Mammon.) “Jacob’s Ladder,” Latin-tinged and soulful, invokes Horace Silver, a connection Walton makes clear with a quote from “Song for My Father” (one of numerous witty quotes scattered throughout). The final workout on “Impressions” transforms Coltrane’s standard into a free-swinging jam-session set piece-a perfect capstone to a set that proclaims joy, discovery and new beauty from first note to last.

Originally Published