CEDAR WALTON: ‘Animation’ and ‘Soundscapes’ (Soul Brother)

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Dallas-born Cedar Walton rose to fame playing piano for three years in Art Blakey’s hard bop group, the Jazz Messengers, in the early 1960s but like many jazz musicians, by the time the ’70s had arrived, he had abandoned straight ahead jazz and was travelling along a jazz-fusion path in search of a new audience. After a succession of albums for a variety of small labels, Walton landed at a major record company, Columbia, in 1978. He stayed with Columbia for two years and during his tenure recorded two albums, ‘Animation‘ and ‘Soundscapes,’ which have now been reissued for the first time on a single CD by Putney’s redoubtable Soul Brother label.

Largely overlooked – even by the most diehard of fusion devotees – Walton’s two Columbia albums prove to be lost gems of a much-maligned musical sub-genre. Stylistically, they have much in common with Bob James’ CTI and Tappan Zee work from the same period. ‘Animation’ is probably the stronger of the two, with the deftly-arranged ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ standing out with its tight ensemble playing – saxophonist Bob Berg and trombonist Steve Turre provide the nucleus of the brass section – and Walton’s funky Fender Rhodes piano. There’s also a great instrumental take on Stevie Wonder’s Latin-inflected ‘Another Star,’ which hurtles along thanks to the combination of Al Foster’s propulsive drumming and Paulinho da Costa’s percussion playing. A Latin vibe also pervades the sinuous ‘If It Could Happen,’ and the propulsive groover, ‘Ala Eduardo.’

1980’s ‘Soundscapes’ features a similar line up of musicians though is augmented by the powerful presence of Freddie Hubbard on ‘The Early Generation’ and singer Leon Thomas, who adds his distinctive vocal tones to the set’s mellow opener, ‘Warm To The Touch.’ Other standouts include ‘Latin America’ and ‘Sixth Avenue.’ All in all, this is a great ‘twofer’ and should appeal to fans of smooth fusion. For more info go to the Soul Brother link at the bottom of this page.

(CW) 4/5