Mal Waldron has never obscured his early, pivotal associations with Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Billie Holiday -- he was the last pianist to accompany her -- or camouflaged his stylistic influences; Thelonious Monk leads the list. But his new album, "One Entrance, Many Exits," is more revealing than most.
The album can be viewed as a series of autobiographical sketches. "Golden Golson," a tribute to Benny Golson's Jazztet (and a wonderful blues vehicle for Joe Henderson's seasoned saxophone) turns back the clock some 20 years to a time when Waldron was playing opposite the Jazztet in New York. The title track, on the other hand, displays the keenly intuitive rapport Waldron has developed recently with bassist David Friesan. It's a striking duet, which, like the Mingus-inspired "Chazz Jazz" that follows, is characterized by sparse lines, unusual attention to space and curious tensions -- all trademarks of Waldron's distinctive style.
Other highlights include "Herbal Syndrome," whose color and construction recall some of the recordings Waldron made with Coltrane, and "How Deep the Ocean," a Monkish-probing of the standard.
In the past, Waldron's introspective side has made for uncommonly somber jazz at times. But not so here. Thanks to Friesen, Henderson and the light and right drumming of Billy Higgins, "Many Exits" flows as naturally as the familiar blues changes that bring this inspired collaboration to a close. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM MAL WALDRON -- One Entrance, Many Exits (Palo Alto PA 8014N). THE SHOW MAL WALDRON and David Friesen, Friday and Saturday at the One Step Down.