Mal Waldron electric piano
Jimmy Jackson organ
Eberhard Weber electric bass
Fred Braceful drums
Recorded February 1, 1971 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Seeing as Mal Waldron inspired Manfred Eicher to put out his first release, Free at Last, on what was to become the legendary ECM label, it is only fitting that his name should also grace the first release of its relatively short-lived companion imprint, JAPO. Through the magic of digital reissue, many of these once elusive albums can now be experienced for the first time, if not anew. Dipping into the waters of The Call (not to be confused with the Charles Lloyd record of the same name) is like tripping on the past as if it were the Here and Now. Over two long takes, averaging 20 minutes each, he and an all-star team transport us to a warm and inviting sound that is equal parts hard bop jam, psychedelic dream, and free jazz meditation.
The title track brings an energizing sound, slick and classic as can be. Bassist and future ECM mainstay Eberhard Weber, along with drummer Fred Braceful, spurs us through some thickly settled spaces, courtesy of Jimmy Jackson on the organ, all led by Waldron’s interplanetary surf. This joyful epic peaks in a glorious bouquet of heat distortion, smooth as it is sere. Lively solo action from Weber and Braceful pushes the band’s sound into delicate relief, throwing us into a dark groove before restoring us to light.
“Thoughts” is an altogether different spoonful. A diary of aural scribblings, it unfolds private wishes with meticulous patience. After a watery intro, Waldron lays down a chalky little vamp. Subtler denouements and a twist of introspection complete the cocktail. You’ll find no miniature umbrella peeking out above this rim…only the curve of a listening ear. Waldron skips us like a stone into heavier grooves, which in return spiral into whispers. Drums curl inward, and in these quiet crawlspaces between the floorboards of the mind, we take our rest, lost among the dust bunnies whose filaments are string and wire and electric current.
This is music that tastes exactly like what it’s made of.
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.
>> Just Music: s/t (ECM 1002)