CEDAR WALTON TRIO
To nonmusicians Cedar Walton's piano playing can seem to melt right into the background. There are two reasons: First, despite his unruffled fluency in hard bop and his sleek, sturdy, sometimes buoyant improvisations, his style bears none of the quirky accents, trademarked phraseology, or other identifying features that immediately announce the presence of contemporaries like McCoy Tyner or Herbie Hancock. And second, his reputation as a jazz composer would probably overshadow just about anyone's piano playing. In his four decades on the scene, Walton has reeled off many terrific tunes, including "Mosaic," "Bolivia," and "Ground Work" (quite a few of them for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, in which he served two terms); most of them tapped so surely into bop's roots that they became instant anthems, sounding inventive and strangely familiar at the same time. But musicians flock to Walton as much for his abilities as an accompanist as to hear him play his own tunes, recognizing his broad harmonic knowledge, his quick ear, and the bemused ease with which he's fed chords and rhythms to the scores of horn soloists who've engaged his services over the years. For his Chicago visit, he'll lead just a trio, meaning that he'll mainly be feeding his own right hand. This is a mixed blessing. Obviously, the small format puts the focus on Walton's style; on the downside, in the past he has played better in support of another frontline soloist than alone. Perhaps he'll rise to the occasion this weekend and treat his own playing to the level of inspiration he seems to reserve for others. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.