Left Alone: Dedicated to Billie Holiday

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Pianist-composer Mal Waldron worked as Billie Holiday's accompanist from 1957 until her death in 1959, and there are few musicians who could record as moving a tribute to the great singer. Though the CD gives a 1957 recording date, this was actually recorded around the time of Holiday's death, with a concluding conversation in which Waldron discusses Holiday and the recording. "Left Alone," a song composed by Waldron to Holiday's lyric, adds altoist Jackie McLean to the pianist's trio for an acid-etched ballad that has the somber longing of Holiday's own late performances. The equally powerful "You Don't Know What Love Is," strongly associated with Holiday, concludes with a profound sense of resolve. The other tracks are the kind of trio material that Waldron played during the years he backed Holiday. "Cat Walk" swings at a slow, loping tempo, while Waldron uses probing, dissonant chords and repetition to create a knotty maelstrom on his own "Minor Pulsation," reaching emotional levels that few pianists achieve. The support from bassist Julian Euell and drummer Al Dreares is as solid and spare as Waldron's own work. --Stuart Broomer