Mal Waldron Sextet: Mal/2

Vinyl reissue for the pianist's 1957 leader debut that included Idrees Sulieman, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean and Sahib Shihab

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This excellent album, here reissued only on vinyl, was new to me, which shows how much great jazz was being produced at this time. Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder in 1957, it was Mal Waldron’s debut as leader. The album was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey on two dates in 1957. These formed the album’s A and B sides, and featured John Coltrane and bassist Julian Euell, plus as altoist either Jackie McLean or Sahib Shihab, as trumpeter Bill Hardman or Idrees Sulieman, and as drummer Ed Thigpen or Art Taylor.

Two gems caught my attention. The Waldron original Potpourri with McLean, Hardman and Thigpen is very impressive, and my colleague Mick Wright comments that Coltrane plays every single note of every chord on his wonderful solo. And the delightful arrangement of The Way You Look Tonight with Shihab, Sulieman and Taylor reminds me of the witty version of Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, though it’s not satirical.

Other highlights include the haunting, mournful J.M.’s Dream Doll. Waldron was then Billie Holiday’s accompanist, and the album also includes a version of her composition Don’t Explain. The CD reissue includes two bonus tracks from the same sessions, Blue Calypso and Falling In Love With Love.

The bands are excellent, especially the saxophonists. I’d not heard of bassist Julian Euell (1929-2019), who studied with  Mingus and worked with Elmo Hope, Phineas Newborn and Kenny Dorham, and ended his career as director of the Louis Armstrong House in Queens, 1991-5.

Waldron hadn’t developed his monochrome minimalist style by this point. Some years later, in 1963, he nearly died from a heroin overdose, and had a nervous collapse. He seemingly re-learned his style, which became much more distinctive than that of the Prestige Records house pianist of the 1950s. However, this album shows affinities between Waldron’s early and mature styles. It’s a fascinating reissue.

Discography
From This Moment On; J.M’s Dream Doll; The Way You Look Tonight; Falling in Love with Love; One By One; Don’t Explain; Potpourri; Blue Calypso (67.20)
Idrees Sulieman, Bill Hardman (t); John Coltrane (ts); Sahib Shihab (as, bar); Jackie McLean (as); Waldron (p); Julian Euell (b); Ed Thigpen, Art Taylor (d). New York, 19 April and 17 May 1957.
Original Jazz Classics 7250479