Anyone who's seriously into hi-fi knows the feeling well. They expend a whole lot of effort in trying to combine the right components into a playback system with correct synergy (as important as the individual pieces themselves). Then for some reason - probably resulting from their frame of mind at the time - the same system might sound great one day and slightly disappointing the next. Man, it's a tough hobby to get involved with.
So just what does this have to do with Cedar Walton's new release? Well, for some reason this disc has made my system shine for four consecutive days - that's what. I would imagine Rudy van Gelder has now engineered thousands of sessions. I've listened to many hundreds of them. But I would venture to guess that this recording from February of 2008 ranks with his very best. I believe his capturing of the bass, piano and drums in particular sets a new standard. Has he upgraded his recording equipment? If so, he certainly hasn't told me. The 24-bit sonics of "Seasoned Wood", however, lead me to suspect something's up here. Perhaps his recent re-mastering of so many Blue Notes has something to do with it.
At any rate, with this Cedar Walton disc you have the best of both worlds. The overall programming is outstanding, the four Walton originals are very worthy, the selection of covers is superb and the arrangements are marvelous. The excellent pacing comes from the use of full quintet, quartet and trio on various pieces. The sound quality on the two trio selections highlight the engineering. The piano and bass deliver duo soloing throughout these numbers with perfect, and I mean perfect, cymbal support by Al Foster. (Mr. Foster basically relies on magnificent cymbal work, only really using his full kit on tracks 1, 7 and 8). The man's cymbal playing truly serves as a lesson on how to accent the playing of others.
After "The Man I Love" starts out with unison playing, bassist Peter Washington produces a perfectly captured brief bass solo. Maybe this is why one's attention is caught by the bass quality for the remainder of the session. He provides spectacular drive to the proceedings. While someone like Dexter Gordon was always perceived as being laconically behind the beat, Washington propels it, almost forcing the band to keep up. I've heard him on many recordings and this is easily his best, in terms of both his playing and how well it was placed in the mix. He gets a second short solo later in the cut - following statements by Walton, Herring and little known trumpeter Pelt. The second track introduces the fantastic trio sonics referred to above, with a sublime Walton solo.
Jimmy Heath's "Longevity" picks up the tempo with sharp unison playing and Herring's best tenor solo. "When Love is New" is a quartet ballad featuring Pelt's very nice Flugelhorn. Again, Foster excels on his cymbal contribution while Walton and Washington do their duo solo thing for the entire tune. The pace picks up again for Walton's "Hindsight". Washington's bass drives the trio's theme with marvelous piano by Walton and "so right" cymbals from Foster. Mr. Foster switches to brushes accented by sticks on "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square". This is a beautiful interpretation of a gorgeous song. Wonderful piano and bass join in.
Track seven quickens things up presenting the full quintet again. All but Foster get solo spots and totally burn! The final number, Walton's medium blues "John's Blues" shows the variety utilizing Pelt on Flugelhorn and Herring on alto sax.. The miking of bassist Washington is again super and Foster trades with the horns towards the end in his first real soloing. (Actually, the quality of Foster's accompaniment throughout is of such a high level that he's now my favorite drummer).
In summary, Cedar Walton has re-affirmed his status as just about the best pianist/composer of today. Bassist Washington has provided his best recorded work. Foster is astonishing. The legendary Rudy van Gelder has exceeded almost everything he's ever put to tape. Hey man - buy this one immediately and let your playback system distinguish itself again. Thanks to everyone involved for delivering a true classic! - Birney K. Brown