Free At Last (Extended Edition Remastered) Mal Waldron Trio
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- 1Rat Now10:13
- 4Rock My Soul11:19
- 5Willow Weep For Me07:30
- 71-3-234 (Var.)05:25
- 8Balladina (Var.)09:05
- 9Boo (Var.)03:33
- 10Willow Weep For Me (Long Version)09:42
Info for Free At Last (Extended Edition Remastered)
Revisited and remastered, with additional takes, texts and photos, here is the very first ECM session, recorded in Ludwigsburg in November 1969, featuring the great American pianist Mal Waldron, whose resume included work with Coltrane, Mingus, Dolphy and Billie Holiday. In his original liner notes, Mal wrote: “This album represents my meeting with free jazz. Free jazz for me does not mean complete anarchy… You will hear me playing rhythmically instead of soloing on chord changes.” As Jazz Journal noted, “tough, two-handed modal blues” predominates, and the music sounds as fresh now as the day it was recorded. Indeed, the tersely-grooving “Boo” and “Rock My Soul” could be club hits half a century later. The Extended Anniversary Edition of Free At Last is issued as an audiophile vinyl double album.
A cymbal riff from Clarence Becton introduces this respectable outing from Mal Waldron and company as bassist Isla Eckinger and the bandleader jump in for some enjoyable interplay. Yet what begins as an energetic ride turns somber through Eckinger’s rumination. Such solos lend deeper insight into the goings on, underscored by Waldron’s staccato mastication. Ballads are the album’s ventricles. A sweltering slog through love and darkened streets, “Balladina” shines with a hardened beauty all its own, while “Willow Weep for Me” is therapeutic like a good long cry. Both tracks have been strategically placed as penultimate bookends and serve as two-way doors into the struggles on either side. Others, like “1-3-234,” center the listener with needed uplift from these brooding asides, culminating in the concise and playful “Boo.”
This recording, ECM’s first, represents what was to become the label’s defining edge: namely, the allowance for (and foregrounding of) space in the recording of jazz. Seeing as this was already part of Waldron’s base approach, selectively pulling at roots while grafting on new ones, this disc was a suitable vehicle for his raw aesthetic. Its melodies may not stick in your head, but are stepping-stones toward a careful melancholy. And while ECM would vastly improve and enlarge its recording repertoire in the decades to come, there remains something comforting—just shy of innocent—about this album. If anything, this is a jazz of introversion, an intimate and myopic exposition of fleeting interactions that neither invites nor pushes away.
As Peter Rüedi has it, “free” meant something quite different to Waldron than it did to the more overtly anarchic figureheads of the waning sixties. It was, rather, “a quality that starts with structure and comes back to structure.” In light of this, Free at Last is the point of departure for a label that has since never looked back, even as it carries these sounds in its heart.
Mal Waldron, piano
Isla Eckinger, double bass
Clarence Becton, drums
Recorded November 24, 1969 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineered by Kurt Rapp
Supervision by Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Scheffner* + Jazz by Post
A pianist with a brooding, rhythmic, introverted style, Mal Waldron's playing has long been flexible enough to fit into both hard bop and freer settings. Influenced by Thelonious Monk's use of space, Waldron has had his own distinctive chord voicings nearly from the start. Early on, Waldron played jazz on alto and classical music on piano, but he switched permanently to jazz piano while at Queens College. He freelanced around New York in the early '50s with Ike Quebec (for whom he made his recording debut), Big Nick Nicholas, and a variety of R&B-ish groups. Waldron frequently worked with Charles Mingus from 1954-1956 and was Billie Holiday's regular accompanist during her last two years (1957-1959). Often hired by Prestige to supervise recording sessions, Waldron contributed many originals (including "Soul Eyes," which became a standard) and basic arrangements that prevented spontaneous dates from becoming overly loose jam sessions.
After Holiday's death, he mostly led his own groups, although he was part of the Eric Dolphy-Booker Little Quintet that was recorded extensively at the Five Spot in 1961, and also worked with Abbey Lincoln for a time during the era. He wrote three film scores (The Cool World, Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, and Sweet Love Bitter) before moving permanently to Europe in 1965, settling in Munich in 1967. Waldron, who has occasionally returned to the U.S. for visits, has long been a major force in the European jazz world. His album Free at Last was the first released by ECM, and his Black Glory was the fourth Enja album. Waldron, who frequently teamed up with Steve Lacy (often as a duet), kept quite busy up through the '90s, featuring a style that evolved but was certainly traceable to his earliest record dates. Among the many labels that have documented his music have been Prestige, New Jazz, Bethlehem, Impulse, Musica, Affinity, ECM, Futura, Nippon Phonogram, Enja, Freedom, Black Lion, Horo, Teichiku, Hat Art, Palo Alto, Eastwind, Baybridge, Paddle Wheel, Muse, Free Lance, Soul Note, Plainisphere, and Timeless. In September of 2002, Waldron was diagnosed with cancer. Remaining optimistic, he continued to tour until he passed away on December 2 in Brussels, Belgium at the age of 76.