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Clear Day by J. D. Walter

I've said it before and I'll say it again: "J.D. Walter is a one-of-a-kind jazz vocalist awaiting discovery by a wider public." It seems that the inner circle of jazz musicians, as always, recognizes outstanding talent and originality long before the jazz press and the record-buying listeners do. Take Dave Liebman, for instance. When Walter called him for advice, it turned out that Liebman was already familiar with Walter's work and owned his Dreambox Media CD, Sirens In The C-House. One thing led to another, including a joint gig at the renowned Deer Head Inn, and the next thing you know, they were recording an album on Double-Time Records--the label's first that features a singer leading a group.

Walter's strengths remain intact: right-on pitch, thrilling dynamics, distinctive scatting ability, daredevil metrical escapades, wordless chanting, unpredictable seemingly out-of-nowhere musical ideas, the seamless coalescence of lyric and reshaped melody and instrumental-like twists and turns as if channeling his voice through brass valves or woodwind keys. Indeed, not only do the musical complexities that Walter makes simple establish him as a jazzman to the soul, but also they make one wonder at the extent of his instrumental experience. Surely, he must have gained such theoretical insight, technical understanding and irresistible feel from at least some keyboard experience, if not that of horns.

However, Walter's first interest is in the limitless possibilities of the human voice, and he doesn't sit down at the piano--like, say, Freddie Cole--or switch to a saxophone--like Curtis Stigers--to display a broader range of talent than that of the voice. Indeed, Walter revels in the joys of singing, making one believe that Clear Day represents a sampling of a longer session cut off by the customary limitations of CD length.... and that the musical explorations continued for quite some time before and after the tracks we get to hear.

J.D. Walter, being attuned to musical circumstances, responds to the situations set up on Clear Day, which employs a new group of musicians from those used on his last album. The resulting atmosphere is more impressionistic, the clarity of purpose assured, and the artistic achievement luminously translucent. For one thing, Sirens in the C-House consisted, with one exception, of tracks written by widely recognized composers/songwriters, such as Rodgers & Hart's "It Never Entered My Mind" or Bill Evans' s "Turn Out The Stars," while Clear Day, on the other hand, features for the most part Walter's and Liebman's original compositions. So, while we got to marvel on his Dreambox Media CD at Walter's powers of invention as he transformed well-known songs into scatting adventures, Clear Day provides a more personalized session through which Walters's and Liebman's attitudes toward life experiences escape through music.

On "Mommie Eyes," written for Liebman's wife on the occasion of their daughter's birth, Walter abandons words altogether, making his voice a purely musical instrument that achieves a harmonic synthesis with Liebman's work on tenor sax. Shrewdly, Walter, inadvertently or not, crafts his swelling, unhurried tones with vowels and soft consonants, rather than note-clipping hard sounds--a sheen of "oh oh oh ah ah ah ee nn day ay oh" reminiscent of what Milton Nascimento does so well: outpourings of instantly felt emotion of a depth that renders words useless. Interestingly and appropriately, some of the song titles allude to pleasures of the visible universe, Walter's group painting rather than asserting.

Walter's two compositions are gleaming examples of his implicit swing, not to mention his effortless sliding between meters as the moods of the pieces change. "Kieshas Coy," an unpretentious minor blues, moves from a repeated head, Ridl's dense chords and minimalist approach signaling the changes gracefully, to Walter's scatted improvisation, much in the same way that "Golden Lady" introduced Sirens In The C-House. In the liner notes, Walter expresses his satisfaction with the lyrics he wrote for "Here I Am There I Go." But the real enjoyment of that tune is its combination of unexpected lurch to conform to apparently-but-not-really-added-at-the-last-minute words, a comfortable ease and a metrical slipperiness. Walter's give-and-take with Liebman reveals his fascination, not just with music, but with the essence of sonic beauty.

On Clear Day, Walter is accompanied by his "other trio" consisting of Ridl on piano, Steve Varner on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. The contrast with his Jean-Michel Pilc/Steve Varner/Gregory Hutchinson group of Sirens In The C-House is illuminating. While Pilc remained irrepressible and challenging, always champing at the bit before embarking on some wild pianistic adventure, Ridl subsumes his considerable offshooting skills--like a Kenny Barron's or a Brad Mehldau's in his ability to make keys and strings convey complex thought and profound feeling--to advance the cohesive sound of the group. The fact that Walter is inspired by two different approaches proves not only his versatility, but also his fearlessness and curiosity.

Once again, J.D. Walter follows his own muse, not really walking in anyone else's shoes. And once again, he creates that hallmark of an outstanding jazz release: an album that offers new delights every time you listen to it--no matter how many times you listen to it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: J. D. Walter
  • CD Title: Clear Day
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Double-Time Records
  • Tracks: Kieshas Coy, On A Clear Day, Here I Am There I Go, Beyond The Line, Mommie Eyes, If I Should Lose You, Translucence, Grace
  • Musicians: J.D. Walter, vocals; Dave Liebman, saxophones, flute; Jim Ridl, piano; Steve Varner, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums
  • Rating: Five Stars
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