Cedar Walton Swings the Duc in Paris
If subtlety and musicality could be embodied by one artist, Cedar Walton would most certainly be among the first choices. The former Jazz Messengers pianist turned in a performance at the Duc des Lombards in Paris that can only be described as a flawless exercise in applied elegance.
A peculiar phenomenon actually occurred that Friday night—such was the density of the effortless swing permeating the room that every single person entering the premises was instantly illuminated with a smile.
The hackneyed phrase according to which “less is more” is given its true depth by Walton as he strips the music of any unwelcome effects to concentrate on the essence of each note. His version of “My Heart Stood Still” was devoid of any sugar content and delivered a wealth of nuances and dynamics. Not only is Walton a bona fide soloist and leader, but the collective entity of his trio makes sense as a whole. The rhythm pair made up of David Williams on bass and Willie Jones III on drums showed exquisite taste and finesse and took care of business with ease—and elegant grease. The latent bluesiness of Walton’s music tells a story in itself, making it plain that his improvisatory skills are not just about delivering a clever line but hark back to the whole jazz experience.
Among Walton’s achievements is the fact that he is a distinguished (emphasis on all the meanings of the term) composer, and it is always a treat to be served such great tunes as “Night Flight” or “Bolivia” by their own composer. After a beautiful ballad intro to “Bolivia,” he showered the tune with delicate witticisms such as a very apposite quote of “Fascinating Rhythm.” On “Night Flight,” Walton was likewise able to conjure beautiful moments with Williams and Jones perfectly in sync with his nimble phrasing. They show absolute rhythmic control, managing to generate extreme tension with an utterly relaxed poise. Williams is especially able to bring together melodic invention and rhythmic presence, while Jones is notable for his graceful sound and tight phrases that fill and fuel the soloing.
The Dallas-based pianist is also a well-known Thelonious Monk interpreter, as was demonstrated by a superb medley that started with a funky take on “Off Minor,” segued into “’Round Midnight” fresh with harmonic twists that led to a boppish “Blue Monk” and ended with “Rhythm-a-Ning” taken at a bristling tempo. Jones shone with a crisp and melodic solo. Walton wrapped up the set with a joyful “Satin Doll.”
The sheer evidence of Walton’s music sets the record straight more than words could, for its very texture is made of the indispensable ingredient that jazz and any authentic artistic statement needs—truth.