Archie Shepp & Mal Waldron

Record review

Phases & Stages

Archie Shepp & Mal Waldron

Left Alone Revisited ... A Tribute to Billie Holiday (Synergy Music)

Neither saxophonist Archie Shepp nor pianist Mal Waldron are strangers to the legacy of Billie Holiday. In 1972, Shepp produced the play Lady Day: A Musical Tragedy, while Waldron not only recorded his own tribute, Blues for Lady Day, the same year, but between 1957 and 1959, he was Holiday's last piano player. Time has burnished the playing of both these lions in winter, and their beautiful, reflective interpretations of songs associated with Holiday are incredibly poignant. Shepp makes effective use of his molasses-thick, almost raspy tone and speechlike intonation to tell his pensive tales. Singing a few verses on an original, "Blues for 52nd Street," his voice sounds eerily like his sax. Shepp's somber reading of Gershwin's "Porgy" brought this cynic to tears. Waldron is less dramatic, remaining in the background and providing the same sensitive supporting role he played with Holiday. When he steps into a solo, his typically angular style seems tempered, in accord with the session's contemplative ambience. Even a tune like "Nice Work if You Can Get It," which Holiday put a bright spin upon, is given a bittersweet treatment. If the demons and pathos inherent in Holiday's music weren't enough to imbibe the session, this proved to be Waldron's last recording. He gets the last word, literally, with a spoken-word coda of the heartbreaking lyrics to "Left Alone," a song he co-wrote with Lady Day. The tune stands as their legacy together. Listen and weep.

****

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