Still as criminally overlooked as he was in the hard bop era, pianist Cedar Walton represents the cream of jazz composers and soloists dating back to the late '50s. He first gained notoriety as a solid sidemen for Art Blakey's early-'60s Jazz Messengers, contributing gems like "Ugetsu" and complimenting the talents of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. After stints with trumpeter Lee Morgan and singer Abbey Lincoln, Walton began his long solo career in 1967 with Prestige. Over the course of the next three years, Walton would showcase his very original writing skills and feature a host of top players from the period. This installment in the label's introductory sampler series finds Walton working through an exclusively original set within trio, quartet, and quintet formats. Joining the pianist are trumpeters Kenny Dorham and Blue Mitchell; tenor saxophonists Junior Cook and Clifford Jordan; bassists Leroy Vinnegar and Bob Cranshaw; and drummers Mickey Roker and Billy Higgins (a longtime Walton associate ). Everyone is in top form throughout. Song highlights include "Head and Shoulders," "Spectrum," and a trio reading of "Ugetsu." Save for 1969's underrated Soul Cycle album (another victim of jazz purists unable to deal with electric pianos and Stevie Wonder covers), this overview nicely covers Walton's late-'60s stay with Prestige and qualifies as a first-disc choice for newcomers.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook