Walter Bishop, Jr.
Released on Black Jazz 1971 (BJ/2)
Japanese Reissue 2005 Black Jazz/P-Vine
Coral Keys 6:20
Waltz For Zweetie 5:08
Track Down 4:51
Soul Turn Around 7:18
Our November 4:10
Three Loves 5:00
Freedom Suite 7:50
All songs composedand arranged by Walter Bishop
Produced and engineered by Gene Russell
Reggie Johnson – Bass
Idris Muhammad – drums (side one),
Alan Shwaetz Benger – drums (side two)
Harold Vic – Soprano sax and flute (side one), tenor sax (side two)
Woody Shaw – trumpet (side two)
Walter Bishop – piano
This post was originally pubslished on published on: Nov 9, 2011 @ 15:31 but is being bumped here for a fresh, new series of Black Jazz enthusiasm. Here is the original text, which I will reprint in its entirety to save me some time:
Well my friends, I’ve been too busy for blogging and have to take advantage of spare moments, such as now when I am coming alive with my first cup of coffee, to do some leisurely writing. My apologies for the brevity of this post. I’ll be dipping into the Black Jazz catalog frequently over the coming weeks (or months… I always seem to make unkept promises), and have decided to start with this album, the second release on the label. The first release was by label founder Gene Russell (“New Directions”) and while it’s a good enough disc, it’s not a *great* disc and in my opinion not the best introduction to this very important label and their legacy. So, let’s start with this one.
Pianist, theorist, and sometime poet Walter Bishop Jr. has a strong enough jazz resumé to pique your interest on his own but the pot is sweetened by the company he brings along on these two sessions, divided neatly into the two sides of the album. The first is driven by the soulful drumming of Idris Muhammad, and kicks off with a riff that is coincidentally reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Bring Down the Birds” from the Blow Up soundtrack. Harold Vic’s economical playing on the flute helps make this a very mellow and subtle opening for an album that kind of sneaks up on you. Vic switches to soprano sax in a low register for the next tune as Idris and Reggie swing the bejeezes out of this Waltz for Zweetie. “Track Down” brings us slowly into soul jazz earthy explorations and Walter steps out from his understatements a bit to show us what he’s got on the solos. Nice interactions between him and Idris on this piece too. “Soul Turn Around” is, as the title might tip you off, unapologetic soul jazz with a fat bass line that lets Muhammad do his thing that he’s best at, creating a steady groove that gets our head and shoulders bobbing, swaying, wanting to move. Vic sounds a bit flat to me on this one.
The second side benefits from the presence of one of my favorite underrated trumpeters, Woody Shaw who helps take the album up a notch. (If you don’t know Woody’s work as a bandleader, don’t waste any time in looking him up. Hard to say where to start but you could do worse than ‘Song of Songs’  or Little Red’s Fantasy ). His playing is always imaginative, effortlessly agile or sparse when the moment calls for it, and he makes a good partner for Harlod Vic, rounding out the sound nicely. ‘Our November’ is, well, a very autumnal composition. The drum throne is handed over to Alan Shwaetz Benger from this point on. While certainly capable enough, he can be a bit busy and I miss Idris’ personality. He does, however, shine on the final track on this album, when the whole ensemble gets to stretch out for the first time on a record made of up of relatively short tracks. “Freedom Suite” may be unimaginatively titled but the music here is undoubtedly the most adventurous and free on the record. Very articulate expressions of hesitation, suspension, curiosity, frustration and release. Benger has a wonderful way of making the drum kit collapse on itself, and occasionally just chooses to stop playing entirely in the middle of a bar, leaving the rest of the group to walk on air. Both Shaw and Bish are very grounded and warm players and retain those qualities even when the band goes into free time, running against the grain of harshness and fire music usually found in the idiom. At slightly under ten minutes, these piece could have gone on much longer and still kept me interested.
Like Bish himself this album is modest and unassuming of its many merits. A fairly traditional jazz record in terms of Black Jazz’s catalog, it is less interesting and exciting than his second offering on the label, “Keeper of My Soul” from 1973, where we’ll find Bish augmenting his palette with electric piano, organ, and a larger ensemble. But we’ll get to that one later. Until then, enjoy this record which is none too shabby.