The Walt Bolden album is just what a jazz listener might expect from a mainstream effort produced in the late '70s by a major label affiliate. It is over-produced, tending to lack the sense of relaxation so essential to swinging music.
Nonetheless, there are moments of great beauty, and some unforgettable rhythmic elements. Most important of all, it is the only solo recording by a man whose contributions to jazz drumming have largely been overlooked.
This drummer, and the much more famous pianist Horace Silver, were in a local Hartford rhythm section picked up by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz for what seemed like it would be a routine club gig in 1950. It turned out to be anything but routine, the leader appreciating the efforts of these players so much he put them in his regular band. From here, Silver and Bolden continued collaborating in what would become the pianist's first hit group. At the same time, the association got Bolden mucho work, and while he always remained busy with musical pursuits including teaching and volunteer duties for the Jazzmobile project, other drummers associated with Silver, such as Art Blakey, became much more famous.
Grady Tate, himself quite a prosperous drummer, got the opportunity to create projects for
emperor in the '70s. At the time the label was riding high with the fusion style, to the point where the name of the label was associated with players such as Stanley Clarke. Indeed, there are probably many fans of jazz who wouldn't believe an album such as Walt Bolden would have come out on the label at all, let alone appear in a manner only slightly diluted by fusion mannerisms. That is an important point to stress, since the type of jazz played by Bolden, and the fusion style of the '70s couldn't be more different in spirit. Attempts to mix the two, and there surely were plenty of them in this era, were generally about as palatable as pouring hot fudge into a pot of bouillabaisse.
Tate and Bolden seem to have a firm hand on things here, not allowing such malarkey. Both get production credits. The tunes are Bolden originals, with the exception of one Bobby Shew title. Instrumentally, there are some really strong players here as well as some more minor league contributors. Tenor man George Coleman and pianist Harold Mabern deserve lots of credit for the best parts of the session, Coleman pulling off several stunning improvisations, and the pianist coming up with the necessary stylistic affinity with Silver, as well as some surprises of his own.
Trumpeter Virgil Jones and guitarist Ron Prince are weaker. Baritone saxophonist Mario Rivera is among the players that add a few nice touches, but inevitably can be counted as witnesses to excess. Because it was a emperor release, there was most likely a bit more of a budget then might have been available from an indie jazz outfit, allowing the hiring of extra musicians. It results in a more lavish sound, yet this is a luxury the music itself hardly requires, and really does not benefit from.