Mal Waldron leads a double life: a composer of straight-ahead jazz standards by day, a piano player full of startling, quirky ideas by night. An academically trained composer, he began his professional music career in the R&B and Soul Jazz groups of the 1950s. One can detect the influence of this period on his playing, as it's full of blues-derived dissonances and pentatonic harmonies. In 1960, Waldron collaborated with the emerging John Coltrane, contributing his lovely ballad Soul Eyes to Trane's repertoire; throughout this period, he was also recording with various trios. His chord voicings are often oddly inverted, and his style focuses on block chords, rhythmic exploration, and dramatic tension-and-release. Sometimes he hangs out on two or three notes, or a single phrase, over an entire chorus. Waldron's style meshed perfectly with the avant-garde of the 60s and 70s, and he's continued to explore free-form improvisation to this day.