What started as a demo CD fortunately has seen the light of day as a full-fledged release by pianist Steve Rudolph’s trio and singer J.D. Walter, for Dedicated To You is
an extraordinary session which would have been such a waste if the music had dissipated unrecorded at the moment of performance. Just the first track, the pairing of the melody of "Embraceable You" with the jagged rhythms of Thelonious Monk’s "Evidence," is an inspiration unto itself, deserving of admiration at the rightness of the arrangement and memorable in such a way that the song is thought of differently after hearing it. But the album is full of such inspired ideas. Not only is Rudolph’s trio a delight, full of verve and cohesive technical prowess, but also J.D. Walter’s singing is entirely distinctive, sometimes recalling the vocal innovations of Betty Carter or Mark Murphy but then entering its own uncharted territories with each song. While both Rudolph and Walter have recorded separately with other artists, their mutual feel for the development of the songs of Dedicated To You
extends beyond that of the convenience of gig preparation or the requirements of recording production.
"The Way You Look Tonight," in particular, highlights the strengths of the group. First, Rudolph limns the harmonic and rhythmic foundations for the piece, the light pushing of the beat with soft chords synchronizing entirely with Steve Varner’s pronounced bass lines and Marko Marcinko’s Latin beat16 bars later. When Walter comes in, the character of the song’s arrangement has already been established, allowing him to build the volume and intensity to a peak at the bridge. The same buildup happens again as Walter’s scatting goes through peaks and valleys of feeling, the ad-libbing never being an end to itself. Rudolph and Walter dust off Moose Charlap’s song, "I Was Telling Her About You," as a duo performance of rhythmless expression of emotion, and Walter delivers the words without embellishment. Just as the listener expects the music of Dedicated To You
to slow down into balladry when "My One And Only Love" follows, Rudolph’s trio and Walter launch a surprise. For "My One And Only Love" takes off with such speed that it would be a challenge in the hands of lesser musicians, but it seems relaxed nonetheless even though the time is tripled. Rudolph’s trio alone plays Ron Carter/Miles Davis’ "81" with peppered notes and an infectious funk beat.
The switching between 5/4 and 4/4 on "Dedicated To You" or the meditative approach to "I Fall In Love Too Easily" with Rudolph’s chord substitutions and Walter’s swelling of emotion through effective dynamics and wordless ululations akin to Milton Nascimento’s are evidence why Dedicated To You
is more than a demo tape. It was created fully prepared for release. The wonder is that it was considered for less than full-scale distribution from the beginning. Could it be that Steve Rudolph and J.D. Walter are accustomed to such high-quality work that they didn’t initially realize the value of this one-of-a-kind CD once it was recorded?