Monday, April 04, 2011

Ben Wolfe - NYC Jazz Record

Ben Wolfe - Live At Smalls

Eric Reed - The Dancing Monk

Omnipresent bassist Ben Wolfe can do many things
well. He has made a great career out of playing with
high-profile pianists/vocalists like Harry Connick Jr.
and Diana Krall or he can lead groups through an array
of slaloming originals. Two recent releases perfectly
exemplify Wolfe’s versatility.

In his liner notes to The Dancing Monk, a collection
of Monk standards, pianist Eric Reed states, “I don’t
know that Monk would appreciate my offerings of his
tunes, but I seriously doubt that Monk would want me
to care.” Things open with a waltzed-up “Ask Me
Now”. The changing of the meter is probably the most
radical thing on the record as Reed mostly sticks to a
traditionalist approach. A deft pianist with a graceful
touch, his solos are scattered with references -
“Everything Happens to Me” pops up on “Reflections”
while “Take the A Train” whistles through “Light Blue”
- dropping coy puzzles amidst the swinging solos.
Wolfe and drummer McClenty Hunter expertly serve
as support to these effervescent solos with the latter
taking a few choruses on the Reed-penned title track
and Wolfe taking a spin through “Pannonica”. This is a
polished approach to a jagged repertoire with confident
solos but few outright surprises.

Live at Smalls, recorded over a weekend last May,
features Wolfe driving a quintet through nine of his
compositions, opening with a fast-moving basslinedriven
melody entitled “Block 11”. Spacious harmonies
rise and fall before each ensemble member solos amidst
varying rhythmic intensities, gradually building until
the ensemble reverts back to near-silence and
introduces the next voice. Marcus Strickland’s reedy
hoot gets things going early over a churning montuno
and reemerges at full-steam throughout the rest of the
set. Pianist Luis Perdomo flaunts his quartal chops on
the shifting “Contraption” while Ryan Kisor’s scattershot
trumpet soars through the midtempo swinger
“Telescope”. Wolfe turns in meditative solos, stretching
out in ways that he rarely gets to elsewhere. Live
elements abound on this recording, with Wolfe
shouting out the occasional heads-up to the band and
the faint clink of glasses in the background. The vibe is
comfortable but professional and the audience is as
responsive as the band.

Ben Wolfe @ New York City Jazz Record

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