Mal Waldron's recording debut as a leader presents the pianist with his many gifts already well developed. For the 1956 quartet date, he takes charge to strike a balance between the sound of a blowing session and the refinement of a more polished date. The spontaneity is there, but the set also benefits from Waldron's thoughtful charts. At this stage of his development, Waldron was a distinctive bop pianist whose occasional sputtering, knotty phrasing revealed the acknowledged influence of Thelonious Monk, as well as similarities with contemporaries Al Haig and Bud Powell. For this set, though, the focus is not on Waldron's playing, but on his ability to lead from the piano bench. The horn players -- top-flight boppers Idrees Sulieman on trumpet and Gigi Gryce on alto sax -- contribute hot solos played with class and authority, and disciplined ensemble work supports the overall structure of Waldron's charts. Some of the arrangements seem written with a larger ensemble in mind, but they also work in the quartet setting, with Waldron's effective use of staggered horn entries, dynamics, interesting harmonies, and occasional countermelodies adding color and variety to the performances. The tracks comprise a bright, focused performance of Benny Golson's "Stablemates," a sparse, bluesy take of the standard "Yesterdays," a pair of good Waldron originals and one from Sulieman, along with Lee Sears' "Transfiguration." Bassist Julian Euell and drummer Arthur Edgehill supply a strong and reliable bop pulse.
Personnel: Mal Waldron (piano); Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone); Idrees Sulieman (trumpet); Julian Euell (bass); Arthur Edgehill (drums).