Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy: Smada
Sempre Amore (Soul Note 1170)
Composed by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.
Recorded: Milano, Italy, Feb. 17, 1986
Rating: 96/100 (learn more)
One of a number of engaging Waldron/Lacy duet recordings, the 1986 Sempre Amore CD stands out for its heartfelt tribute to Duke Ellington and Biily Strayhorn. Just as the duo are able to interpret Thelonious Monk tunes so well, here they succeed in probing and finding new angles and dimensions in pieces from the Ellington and Strayhorn songbooks. The relatively obscure "Smada" was originally titled both "Ugly Ducklin'" and "Smoky City" when first composed by Strayhorn during his late-'30's, pre-Ellington Pittsburgh days, but it reappeared in 1952 as "Smada" (reverse spelling of Los Angeles DJ Joe Adams' last name). Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges, and Jimmy Hamilton were among those featured at various times on the arrangement performed by the Ellington Orchestra.
Waldron's assertive intro gives way to Lacy's playing of the seductive long-toned theme and its contrastingly jubilant, dancing bridge. Lacy's dry, understated vibrato allows the listener to focus on how, in his solo, he is able to shuffle the content and emphasize the dichotomy between the theme and bridge, ending with a series of catchy riffs before Waldron takes over. The pianist's provocative, sometimes stride-like comping behind Lacy has set the stage for his equally unbridled solo, hard-edged and with a fitting allusion to Monk's "Well You Needn't" that makes you wonder how Monk himself would have approached this composition. The duo's reappraisal of the melody seems that much more luxuriously articulated, given their preceding elaborations. Kudos to the engineering of Giancarlo Barigozzi, which provides an unusually clear and authentic aural presence.
Reviewer: Scott Albin
Tags: 1980s jazz