What We Talk About When We Talk About Melancholy

Richard Diebenkorn, Woman in Profile, 1958.

Mal Waldron & Marion Brown
Songs of Love and Regret
Free Lance : 1987

MB, alto sax; MW, piano.

One of the joys of what we call jazz is the mixing and matching of styles, personalities, and musical knowledge. If improvisation is the central creative motive, there is also an improvisational aspect to the grouping of individuals into some kind of cohesive whole. While there are notable, longstanding groups of great renown, there’s also tremendous anticipatory pleasure in simply noting the names on an album — perhaps a pairing you’d never considered before. “I wonder what these two sound like together?”

Songs of Love and Regret brings together two of our favorite musicians and the results sound so inevitable that it’s hard to imagine what took Marion Brown and Mal Waldron so long. Per the album title, they work their way through melodic tunes that positive ache with yearning and melancholy.

We primarily know “The Golden Lady,” a seldom-recorded Brown original, through Amina Claudine Myers version on her solo piano record of Marion’s tunes. Hushed and insistent, it’s quiet intensity ebbs and flows as effortlessly as drawn breath. “Contemplation” by McCoy Tyner is another spellbinding tune that invites you to get lost in its measured meditations, making its nuance and sophistication easy to miss — or maybe even beside the point.

At this point in his career, Brown had settled into a comfortable groove, revisiting on album a small group of tunes — including “La Placita” and “Hurry Sundown” — over and over again. Waldron, meanwhile, was enjoying a creative resurgence, recording winning duo records with Steve Lacy and robust live dates with his quintet on Soul Note/Black Saint. But career arcs have little to do with the vital common ground they establish in these performances — this aching beauty is a case of simple chemistry.

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