For decades, the Modern Jazz Quartet's Milt Jackson was jazz's leading player of the vibraphone. Both in the Modern Jazz Quartet and on his own solo albums, Jackson redefined the role of vibes in jazz, turning them from a percussion instrument into a lead more than capable of holding its own in any format. Not even Bags, though, would have recorded an album like Walt Dickerson's Serendipity. Recorded live in Dickerson's hometown of Philadelphia in 1976, Serendipity was the vibraphonist's second album as leader after an extended layoff, and it's remarkable in its spareness. This is a trio date, but drummer Edgar Bateman and future superstar bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma (barely 20, but already a veteran of Ornette Coleman & Prime Time) stand way back and give Dickerson room to breathe. (Unusually for Tacuma, who has turned over-playing into an art form; even his extended solo at the opening of the 15-minute "Magnificent Glimpse" is a model of economy and restraint.) From the solo opener "My Prayer" onwards, this is entirely Dickerson's show; he remains in control of the improvisations, even on the jaggedly free passages that erupt on even the most conventionally melodic of these tunes. He subtly steers things back to a tonal and melodic center as the lengthy tracks (all but one well over ten minutes) come to a logical and shapely close. Those expecting a nice melodic vibes album à la Lionel Hampton will probably freak, but Serendipity is a stunner for fans of Dickerson's more out-there sets.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason