Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cedar Walton: Living Legend

Cedar Walton (piano; b. 1934)

Cedar Walton has quietly become one of the most influential and revered musicians in jazz. In my opinion, Cedar Walton along with Wynton Kelly are one of a handful of hard bop pianists who don't get the recognition they so greatly deserve. He was a session player for many years during the '50s and early '60s. Cedar Walton has worked with a wide array of artists including a Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan among others. He is widely known as the first piano player for John Coltrane's Giant Steps sessions. But his true shinning moments are his own recordings of which there are many.
Walton's style is sophisticated, beautiful and intricate in the similar vein of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. His choice of band members is always a sign of the intensity of recording session (especially live). Any album featuring legendary drummer, Billy Higgins is worth buying on the spot. The combination of Walton and Higgins is like Jagger and Richards, Lennon and McCartney or Monk and Rouse--you almost can't see one without the other. Walton's live performances of a thing of beauty. I have seen him countless times and I haven't experience one low-par show ever.
While all of his records I could easily recommend there is a highly strong and critically acclaimed period that saw Walton in his most inventive and prolific period. This was from 1975 - 1978 when he formed a band called Eastern Rebellion (named after the Irish rebel movement called Easter Rebellion). The band would also work off and on throughout the 80s and 90s but the majority of the material was during this three year stretch. The band consisted of mainstay Billy Higgins (drums), David Williams, Sam Jones (bass) and rotation of sax players including George Coleman, Bob Berg and Ralph Moore. The band originated out of a European tour that Cedar was headlining and he wanted to give his band an actual name and that's how Eastern Rebellion came about.
The albums are mixture of standards and Walton staples ("Bolivia", "Ojos de Rojo" and "The Maestro") with performances of the highest order. Most of the Eastern Rebellion albums were live so its the perfect way to hear Cedar Walton. There is a fantastic three disc set simply titled First Set, Second Set and Third Set (SteepleChase) which are probably the ones to start with. Bizarrely they are listed as The Cedar Walton Quartet records not Eastern Rebellion but that's nit-picky. The albums are a little hard to find but not out of print so they shouldn't cost that much. I have found them online and for download if you chose that route.
For those looking for some of Walton's newer material you should check The Promise Land (High Note) which features a host incredibly strong selections that anyone interested in jazz would love. The title track along with "Bermond's Blues" and "Thirty Degrees To The Wind" highlight an album of mostly Walton originals and is a real pleasure to listen to. A pianist with great skill and beauty--if you haven't experienced Cedar Walton you really should.
If you have a chance to see him live I highly recommend you buy ticket and see one of the few jazz legends still around and performing regularly. The perfomance below was recorded during one of Eastern Rebellion's European tours in '76.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this wonderful and informational site. I particularly appreciate the videos... keep em coming!