Click here to [close]

Friday, June 21, 2024

Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy – The Mighty Warriors (Elemental Music, 2024) *****

By Gary Chapin

Few musicians map the borderlands between free jazz and post-bop with the thoroughness and skill of Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy, and the fact that they fell into a decades-long partnership is one of the great happenstances of this music we love. On this recording, a previously unreleased live recording from Antwerp, 1995, we’re presented with 96 minutes of the two (along with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille) at the height of their powers.

Waldron is included in Matthew Shipp’s list of Black Mystery School Pianists, which completely tracks, given Waldron’s minimalistic, quasi-ritualistic improvisations that often bring on small delightful fugue states in the listener. Lacy is, in addition to all his own streams, a fellow traveler for the Mystery School, with an architecture building on Monk’s foundation.

Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille are the ridiculously powerful rhythm section for this date. I don’t know how I can describe the rightness of Workman’s playing, that every note is where and when it needs to be, and each sounds amazing (which is also a function of production and recording). Cyrille is the gentlest, most sensitive kick-ass free drummer you’ve ever heard, unfailingly providing levitational force under the rest of the geometry. Workman and Cyrille together have the best conversations—old friends who are still fascinated by what each has to say. Of course, that would go for Lacy and Waldron, too.

The set comprises two Monk tunes, a long Workman piece, a Lacy original, and the rest by Waldron, including a long medley that opens with Waldron’s “Snake Eyes” (something of a standard) and moves into variations on a Cecil Taylor piece. There’s a lot of stretching out on this album, and the creative facility available to these four men is extraordinary. They are all at the top of their game.

As if that weren’t enough, the book included with the package contains pieces written by Workman, Cyrille, Dave Liebman, and Hiromi Waldron (Mal’s widow). If we’re giving out stars, this one gets five.