Mal Waldron with Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin: The Quest

The pianist's 1961 album used irregular time sigs and structures, testing the skills of Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, Ron Carter and others

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The Quest first appeared as a Mal Waldron album, but was occasionally reissued under Eric Dolphy’s name in order to capitalise on his fame. Dolphy had gained wide recognition as a member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet, recording with Mingus and John Coltrane.

Waldron (1925-2022) had also been a member of the Mingus group which recorded the famous Pithecanthropus Erectus album in 1956. An up-and-coming Booker Ervin completed the front line and is heard to advantage on every track – as is Dolphy, who takes a rare clarinet appearance on Warm Canto. Ron Carter, Joe Benjamin and Charlie Persip complete a highly competent rhythm section. The seven complex original compositions test the skills and sensibilities of all the participants.

Status Seeking portrays what Waldron called “the hustle and bustle of the way we live” and recalled “We kept the mood of the melody in the solos, but each player had more liberty in the changes he could use.” The more relaxed Duquility attempts to convey an Ellingtonian atmosphere in what Waldron called “a kind of pocket ballad”.

An intriguing Thirteen is formed of that number of notes, introduced by all members of the group, and followed by solos from Dolphy and Waldron. Warm Canto features Dolphy’s clarinet solo and a pizzicato cello solo from Carter. Warp And Woof in 5/4 time illustrates Waldron’s fascination with, different rhythm patterns, while Fire Waltz (in 3/4) has its own distinctive tranquillity. Rally (the bonus track) has George Duvivier replacing Joe Benjamin, and Ervin sitting this one out.

Scott Yanow in his review suggested that the music was “complex”, falling between hard bop and the avant [1961] garde.” Writing in Down Beat, Pete Welding commended the seven tracks for “their fresh thinking and rhythmic and harmonic daring”. I’m coolly agnostic about both verdicts, but see what you think.

Discography
Status Seeking; Duquility; Thirteen; We Diddit (22.00) – Warm Canto; Warp And Woof; Fire Waltz; *Rally (25.00)
Waldron (p); Eric Dolphy (as, bcl); Booker Ervin (ts); Ron Carter (clo); Joe Benjamin (b); Charlie Persip (d). *Bonus track as above except Ervin omitted and George Duvivier (b) replaces Joe Benjamin. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 27 June 1961, *20 June 1961.
Sounds Good (LP) 66410