Mal Waldron: The Quest (1961) UK Xtra

Selection 1: Warm Canto (Waldron)

. . .

Selection 2: Status Seeking (Waldron)

. . .


Eric Dolphy, alto sax,  bass clarinet; Booker Ervin, tenor sax; Mal Waldron, piano, Ron Carter, cello; Joe Benjamin, bass; Charlie Persip, drums; recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 27, 1961.


19611961:  the world’s first electric toothbrush was launched by Squibb Co., Its success was held back some years awaiting the invention of electric teeth.


Relentlessly interesting music from Mal Waldron, who with Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, and Ron Carter, offers a satisfying complexity and variety which sits somewhere between hard bop and the avant-garde. Waldron – famous for his later partnership with saxophonist Steve Lacy – holds the melodic underpinning steadfast whilst the soloing of Booker Ervin and Eric Dolphy is never less than scintillating, while Carter’s pizzicato and bowing on cello adds an engaging third instrumental soloist to the ensemble.

AllMusic do a thoughtful analysis of the whole session, every track of which is a gem:

“Status Seeking” is a rip-roaring cop chase of a theme, locked tight into its revolving minor third riffs before Dolphy blows the whole structure open with one of his finest solos on record, after which Ervin and Waldron return to the Phrygian mode of the theme. “Duquility” and “Warp and Woof” both feature Ron Carter’s lyrical cello playing, under-recorded and unfairly criticised as out of tune, but wonderfully compatible with Dolphy’s tonal explorations on both his and Carter’s earlier Prestige albums Where? and Out There.

“Thirteen” is an intricate study in isorhythm worthy of Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream concept, but once more the fire of Dolphy’s playing and the passion of Ervin’s transcend the academicism of the composition. “We Diddit” on the other hand, keeps thematics to a minimum to allow Dolphy and Ervin maximum runway space for takeoff.

Pianist Waldron, while contributing some elegant Powell-like linear bop solos, is quite content to ride the hard-swinging rhythm section of Joe Benjamin and Charlie Persip and leave center stage to Carter, Ervin and Dolphy.

The contrast between the horn players is most apparent on the 5/4 blues “Warp and Woof,” where Ervin sticks to the preaching blues scale while Dolphy contributes angular snippets of birdsong worthy of Olivier Messiaen. There’s no deadly pressure to annihilate each other though: collaboration is the name of the game, and the gracefully loping “Fire Waltz” dances the album to a close with perfection.

Some reviewers have been critical of Van Gelder’s engineering decisions regarding piano,  commonly described as all but inaudible and too low a level in the mix. For the most part I didn’t hear any problems on the Xtra. Perhaps EMI engineers made different judgements in the remastering, or may be my expectations are different. I was not very familiar with Waldron’s work, a mistake on my part, to be made good in future.

No jazz collection would be complete without this unusual masterpiece. Not only are the individual soloists first-rate, the sheer variety of instruments – b flat clarinet anyone? – and tempos with great melodies make it one of a kind. Not music for ironing to, but music that demands you sit and listen, all the way through, then turn to play the other side. The ironing can wait.


Transatlantic/ XTRA 5006, 1966 UK first release of Prestige NJLP 8269; 143 gm vinyl, pressed by EMI Hayes for Transatlantic’s Xtra label

Transatlantic Records took over the UK licensing of Prestige Records after the demise of  Esquire in 1964, hence a five-year gap until its release here. Esquire must never have got around to issuing The Quest,  fortuitously depriving us of an alternative cover, probably a large green question mark on plain white background, or a Ralph Steadman  pen drawing of someone peering through a magnifying glass. After a while you get to know how Esquire thought.

Quest FantasyTransatlantic reused the great Don Schlitten photo from the New Jazz release. A lot better than the subsequent Fantasy hippy typography reissue cover, which hints at it being Dolphy’s album rather than Waldron’s.

Collector’s Corner

Envy rating 2

Not especially rare or expensive, and not the New Jazz original, which would be more envied


Missing from my collection for too long, now made good. The valves however are feeling a little smug.


Dolphy AND Ervin? Double-cool.


Source: Ebay

Seller’s Description:

Original rare LP, great music in fine condition, this was the British edition of the US album.  Year of release 1966 Record Label Prestige

Sleeve: VG+ (a few marks – see photo – but no rips or splits, good for its age)
Vinyl: VG+

Mal Waldron EbayCapture

I love it when sellers show off their mahogany desktop, and photograph the whole disk instead of the more important label. So that’s what a record looks like. I never knew.

The Quest stands on its head the usual relationship between price and quality. The Xtra edition may not be the New Jazz original but its pretty damn close vintage vinyl, delightful pressing re-mastered by EMI and a fraction of the price. As a piece of music, it costs less than 50 pence a minute to listen to if you played it only once. After a few plays you are getting music this good for less than the cost of being held in a call-centre queue, waiting to speak to someone about your tax return. And it is certainly more enjoyable.

(Pictures updated to modern standard June 25, 2017)


26 thoughts on “Mal Waldron: The Quest (1961) UK Xtra

  1. I have this Dutch reissue ‘Artone’, but it has (apart from all those beautiful tracks) the VanGelder stamp and the Don Schlitten cover. The Schlitten cover adds to the music different than for instance Reid Miles did. We are dragged from a mythical NY we only know by our fantasy (Reid) to a world we were once part of in our younger days (Schlitten). But it’s all about the same music. The effect of a different cover can be enigmatic. Don knew. He added.


  2. A bit late to the party, but here goes. Regarding ‘Warm Canto’, Dolphy’s solo is so beautiful that I reckon they decided a re-take wouldn’t yield a better result, despite the reed squeak. My only slight disappointment is with Ervin’s solo on ‘Warp and Woof’ where he sounds hesitant, possibly uncomfortable with the metre. A great album, nevertheless.


    • The New Jazz label is plagued by the use of recycled vinyl – not all, but too many, its a crap-shoot. On some, the vinylite was cut with just a little recycled vinyl, others it’s a major problem, they can be near unlistenable. All my Walt Dickerson titles are hissy. Early/mid ’60s was around when the practice occurred, affecting some Prestige titles too.

      It’s not even consistent. I had two copies of the New Jazz same title, one was hissy, the other not. May be different plant, or different batches, or different days, maybe Weinstock didn’t know, it was just business, cutting cost. Adulterated vinyl was known in the industry. Ebay sellers often don’t acknowledge it. I got “Just sounds like normal vinyl to me”.

      There is no cure. You can get The Quest as a UK pressing on the Extra label as I recall. For other tiles, UK Esquire issued many Prestige and New Jazz, without taint, using Van Gelder metal.


  3. I’m just playing a late-70s or early-80s press of this which replaces – and improves on – the Prestige two-fer I previously owned. Fortunately, as regards Mal Waldron, one of those rare but useful rules of thumb applies: if it has Mal on it, buy it — his pick-up bands on tiny Japanese labels, his trios and solo work on Soul Note, his Prestiges…. It’s all worth hearing.


  4. Hmmm..I placed my bid low on this very record – thinking who wants a Mal Waldron album? I should have known. Still at least I get to hear it now
    I must say I’m very impressed with these Transatlantic/Xtra pressings – great value for collectors of music rather than collectible records.


    • Whoops! Sorry, Andy. Happens to me all the time, so I don’t feel too guilty. Lost all my bids this week. I keep reading about some supposed recession, people reduced to eating cat food due to government cuts, but there’s no shortage of deep pockets chasing records.


    • There’s an original on sale now on ebay. The price is already 105 dollars and reserve isn’t met yet 😉 There’s a Dutch pressing which uses the original Van Gelder stampers. I have both, but I think with an XTRA you’ll have all you’ll ever need!


  5. Warm Canto is a GREAT piece of music I’ve always enjoyed. But I have to ask this: Why did Prestige decided to not re-take this after what to me sounds like mistakes? Dolphy’s clarinet squeaks at one time and the bass solo is mightily out of tune (most of the time). The piano solo is magnificent, but they could have easily spliced takes together… I think if this would have been recorded by Blue Note we would have a perfectly realized take. What do you guys think?



    • I think, it’s just the usual playing by Dolphy and Carter. They were not to be known as the cleanest players. But it’s exciting, don’t you think?


      • Allow me one more comment. Carter’s solo is on cello. Leaving Pettiford aside, I know no Jazz bassist, who is really playing exact and clean on the cello. Carter has great time, but as I said, he’s not the cleanest bass player.


        • Dolphy and Carter “not to be known as the cleanest players”? No way. Cello considerations aside, Carter is an academically trained, consummate bass player who has played in classic ensembles. I don’t know all the details about Dolphy’s musical training, but his technique/intonation was fabulous no matter what instrument he was playing. I hesitate to use the word “clean” in this context. After all, it’s jazz, isn’t it?


          • Just beacuse he was academically trained does not necessarily mean, that he has always been perfect in execution. Carter is a great player, great fluidity and time, very consistent. But to me, he’s not always very clean, more so on cello. Just my five cents, though.


              • I found this comment on Ron Carter on Organissimo:

                As far as I have observed, there are two aspects about his playing people object to:
                1. his sound i.e. the way he uses the pickup
                2. his intonation
                Both are closely related, I have the impression his sometimes sloppy sounding intonation is due to the fact that he turns up the treble so the attack of his notes comes though much clearer. As engineer Jim Anderson replied to me when I inquired about Carter’s use of the pickup on the old BNBB “he wants to let people know where the beat is”. His drive owes a lot to this sound. On the other hand it enhances the audibility of the “pickup sound”.
                Without a pickup, his sound is much fuller, rounder and deeper, Johnny Griffin’s Riverside LP “The Kerry Dancers” (now on OJC CD) and a 1980’s session with pianist Michel Sardaby on the rare French label Harmonic are excellent examples. Because of that brightly colored pickup sound, the tonal center of his notes seems to be a little off pitch at times, but I’m sure he doesn’t hear it that way directly at the instrument.
                Sometimes I think his IMHO overuse of the pickup was a major factor in leading the whole Marsalis generation to do away with the “dreaded bass direct”.

                If you want the full context, here’s the link:


                When I’m talking about Ron Carter, it’s always with his role in the Miles Davis Quintet in mind. In fact, I don’t care much about his cello playing – nor about Oscar Pettiford’s, for that matter.


                • The quote was supposed to be set in italics. Didn’t work, never mind. But it’s easy to see where I resume my own comment (“If you want the full context etc.”)


                  • Thank you very much, that explains a lot. Didn’t know that and it’s a highly appreciated Explanation.
                    On the other Hand I mainly focused on Carter playing Cello, so that may explain the differences.


  6. This is a great little session and “Warm Canto” just has it. I find all the other Prestige/New Jazz records Waldron has made quite appealing, but this is the stand out track of all recordings.
    I have a later Fantasy issue (but not the one with the 70ies cover) and I Need to compare that one. Your rip sounds a Little ‘sharp’ to me, or am I incorrect?
    Just another hint. Waldron (in trio Formation) has made some recordings for Music Minus One MMO. They’re not up to par with his original Studio sessions, but they are very nice and somewhat cheap the get.


    • Warm Canto – fresh rip, pitch corrected. The Numark has a pitch control (cheaper than a more robust motor), speed seems to vary according to the weight of the record, each one is different.

      I haven’t listened attentively to Waldron before – I love his harmonic sense, definitely one to seek out. I have a fast forward with Lacy in the post, but a the current period is definitely one to look out for.


      • Even with the Newmark, I don’t think the weight of a record should affect the speed in any way that is worth mentioning, except that it may take a fraction longer to gather speed right at the start.
        Anyway, thanks for this great, great post. I thought I knew them all, but this one somehow escaped my attention.


  7. I have just been captivated by your first selection: Warm Canto. B flat Clarinet (the most ubiquitous member of the family- played so indifferently by hordes of music students) is so very rarely heard in modern jazz (rightly or wrongly, I’m excluding swing from modern jazz here) and the Amazon reviews suggest that this was the only track it was used on for this set. Thanks.


  8. Hi LJC
    This is a great record it grabs you right from the first track. I havent played it for a long time, your post prompted me to dig out. I have the XTRA version I got it new from HMV’s in Putney High Street. Found it after visit to the second hand record shop just around the corner, it was called the Odd Spot.
    Regards Hifi Freddy


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