Pianist Cedar Walton (1934-2013) was one of the giants, as well known for his compositions and arranging as he is for his piano chair stints in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, his steering vocalist Etta James to an Emmy Award for Mystery Lady: The Songs Of Billie Holiday, (RCA, 1994), and his prolific recording career, beginning with Cedar! (Prestige Records, 1967) through The Bouncer (Highnote Records, 2011).
Like many of us, pianist Ben Markley got hooked on the music of Cedar Walton's hard-swinging, bluesy, infectious sounds that came out of the African aesthetic. So Markley decided that a big band treatment for some of his favorite Walton tunes was in order.
Clockwise:the Music Of Cedar Walton swings out of the gate with a flourish, and trumpeter Terell Stafford - the featured artist on the set - takes his first solo, fluid and relaxed initially, breathing fire by the end of his turn, giving way to saxophonist Will Swindler, who steams the place up, with the band providing a spirited accompaniment, blowing into a joyous, post-solos fanfare.
The title tune is timeless, as is all of Walton's music. Markley has provided an airy arrangement, imbued with a subdued elegance. "I'll Let You Know" features the leader's piano, on a beautifully pensive piece of music, the band restrained but still assertive in its approach, enveloping Markey's sound with a firm cushion of harmony. They take on "Bolivia," one of Walton's most famous tunes (and a particular favorite here). Freddie Hubbard laid down a killer rendition of this classic on his Bolivia (MusicMaster, 1991), with Walton himself on piano. Markley fleshes the sound out, giving it a propulsive grandeur, with inspired solos by Markley and trombonist Paul McKee.
These are classic big band sounds, an upbeat take on the format, full of adept arrangements and and intricate soloing, tipping a top hat to the great Cedar Walton.