Mal Waldron Trio: Free at Last (ECM 1001)


Mal Waldron Trio
Free at Last

Mal Waldron piano
Isla Eckinger bass
Clarence Becton drums
Recorded November 24, 1969 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Kurt Rapp
Supervision: Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Scheffner* + Jazz by Post
Release date: January 1, 1970

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.

*Scheffner’s name is incorrectly spelled as “Scheffnfr” on the original LP.

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5 thoughts on “Mal Waldron Trio: Free at Last (ECM 1001)

  1. Hi,
    at the top of your review you wrote: “Produced by Manfred Scheffner [sic] + Jazz by Post”.

    As I worked with Manfred Scheffner for many years I would like to add some comments.

    He really was the producer of this LP. Not Manfred Eicher! So the addition of [sic!] isn’t necessary insofar.
    Manfred Scheffner was the founder of “Jazz by Post” in 1965. In the beginning this was a mail-order operation only. Conducted from his private home until 1967 when Karl Egger (owner of an electronic appliances store at the outskirts of Munich) offered Manfred Scheffner some space for a bureau plus a sales-room for the vinyl at the fourth floor of this store in Pasing / Munich.
    There – in 1969 Manfred Eicher joined. Manfred Scheffner knew Manfred Eicher already from delivering a.o. MPS LPs to the shop which meanwhile was called “Jazz by Post” as well. In the following month ECM was founded by Manfred Scheffner, Manfred Eicher and Karl Egger. Actually Karl Egger provided the intial funding for opening the company ECM and for the the first releases on ECM and JAPO (both were Mal Wadron recordings).

    Very early Manfred Eicher took over ECM as the sole producer and in general the complete responsibility for Edition Contemporary Music (aka ECM – a name invented by Eicher).
    Only later JAPO was integrated into ECM and Manfred Scheffner later also sold his part on ECM to Eicher.
    This – in short – is the background for JAPO or to put it in one sentence: JAPO was founded by Manfred Scheffner and not by Manfred Eicher!

    1. Hello, Ernst! Thank you so much for the comment. My use of “sic” in this instance refers to the fact that Manfred Scheffner’s surname was misprinted as “Scheffnfr” on the back of the original LP. I have added a note and image for clarification to that effect. I certainly appreciate the information, and the opportunity to clear up this possible misunderstanding ensures that readers will not forget Scheffner’s vital role in the ECM legacy.

  2. Hi Tyran,
    OK – understand. Thanks!
    BTW – “Free At Last” will be reissued this autumn in an expanded edition including session photographies provided by Manfred Scheffner.

  3. Today is Isla Eckinger’s birthday. And, as is the case we like to play a recording in our collection by an artist who happens to have a birthday on the particular date as accompaniment to our evening meal. Tonight our ears were attuned to celebrating the music of Isla Eckinger.

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