The launch of a jazz label rarely commands the sort of attention Astor Place Recordings should receive in the coming months. A subsidiary of Profile, the rap label that catapulted Run DMC to the peak of the groove close to a decade ago, has entered the jazz fray with two established stalwarts, pianist Cedar Walton and saxophonist David Murray.
The new recording enabled Walton, a vet of more than three decades of session work, to bring a front line of young leaders — saxophonists Vincent Herring and Ralph Moore and trumpeter Phillip Harper — and an ace rhythm section of Robert Hurst and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on bass and drums.
The half-dozen originals performed Tuesday in Walton’s opening 75-minute set showcased the same crisp compactness of the perfs on his Astor Place debut “Composer,” one of the jazz highlights of the last year and a half. Harper, in particular, supplied effusive solos that bubbled with joyfulness and emphasized coherent, linear thought.
Walton, having backed a who’s who of post bebop stars, controls and directs each song like a shaman overlooking his brood, starting with the gentle “Martha’s Prize” before moving to the melancholy of “The Vision” and the dense chords of “Underground Memoirs.”
The band exploded on “Minor Controversy,” as Walton’s piano cascaded across the hornmen’s one-two blare before Smith’s drumming spun the entire performance into a good-natured frenzy. The three men up front took turns guiding the mayhem — Harper spun funky riffs before giving way to Herring’s full-bodied alto lines. Forsaking maturity for a lasting burn, Herring played hard and splashy to bring the band to a full boil for Moore, now on soprano sax, to take the ensemble to ’62 Coltrane with fluttering leads over block chords and Smith’s growing rumble.
Isolated, Moore’s segment was a “been there, heard that” moment. In the context of the others, his statements were reminders of history, of how this music has grown and experienced a rebirth, and how, in this instant, there is one constant, a model of professionalism, class and exploration: Cedar Walton.