Seasoned Wood

Seasoned Wood

In jazz, those lacking a distinctive style can often go unnoticed. Dallas-born Cedar Walton is neither a barrelhouse-blues roller nor an edgy avant-gardist, but the pianist-composer, who turns 75 this month, possesses workmanlike skills and an innate musicality that has never dimmed. If that sounds, well, boring, his evolution proves otherwise. Walton was first noticed for his work with Kenny Dorham and as the pianist on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps , but it was during his sixties tenure with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers that his playing really came to the fore, his tentative nature supplanted by a McCoy Tyner–esque forcefulness. Walton has dabbled over the years with Latin rhythms, funk, and Eastern tonalities, yet Seasoned Wood (HighNote) sounds like a fifties Blue Note hard bop session. While the album’s few ballads feel forced, Walton’s quintet relaxes and locks down driving arrangements (“Longravity,” “The Man I Love”). “Hindsight” showcases the pianist free-associating chordal runs, but it’s his composition “Plexus,” with its roving, punctuated accents and furious swing, that truly elevates this set.

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