Born in 1934 in Dallas, Texas, pianist Cedar Walton has fronted his own groups, and worked with the very best. He is acclaimed as one of the most influential musicians on the circuit today, with compositions such as Bolivia, Clockwise and Firm Roots being true mainstays of the jazz repertoire.
In his three Ronnie Scott’s performances for the London Jazz Festival he more than demonstrated his prowess at the keyboard. His playing wasn’t excessively flashy, but it didn’t need to be. The firmness, clarity and precision on show were enough to prove the extent of his talents. He could ‘utter’ the simplest phrase and leave the audience marvelling at the sheer musicality that had just been demonstrated.
Following the generally racy Cedar’s Blues, Walton launched into improvisations on Over the Rainbow and There’s No Business Like Show Business, his unique take on these pieces feeling entirely in keeping with the spirit of the originals. In Firm Roots, one of his most iconic compositions, the sheer extent of the ground he covered on the keyboard in seconds was masked by the smoothness, coherency and lightness of his touch.
Walton also revealed his professionalism by not hogging the show. If the music demanded something quite simple from him, that is what he delivered. He didn’t attempt things just so that people could marvel at his cleverness. He also gave the other band members ample moments in the spotlight, enabling them to display their own exceptional skills.
Willie Jones was brilliant on the drums. Inherently rhythmic from first to last, he was highly fluid in his approach so that even the most frenetic solos possessed their own smoothness and circularity. Darryl Hall on bass provided a sure foundation to the evening, while contributing his own brand of flair, and Italian tenor saxophonist Piero Odorici enjoyed his many opportunities to shine. The final piece of the evening, Stevie Wonder‘s Another Star, was dominated by him far more than Walton, and here and elsewhere his solos remained firm toned and slick.
Before Cedar Walton took to the stage the audience was treated to the Tim Lapthorn Trio, featuring Lapthorn on piano, Stephen Keogh on drums and Arnie Somogyi on bass. The three played together harmoniously, remaining well balanced and rising and falling as one in the number Wondering. The pieces performed – mainly Lapthorn compositions – were deceptively complex, and strongly executed. Lapthorn is clearly developing his own voice, and may reach a point where compositions are instantly identifiable as his. Clearly, he has the skill and technical understanding of jazz to achieve just that.