Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ben Wendel - NYC Jazz Record

Ben Wendel - Frame

Eclectic saxophonist Ben Wendel has lent his distinct
tenor to countless records from coast to coast but has
solidified his reputation with his band Kneebody. For
his second solo release Wendel has amassed a first-rate
band (which includes two members of Kneebody) that
tackles his eight original compositions (and one
standard) with a refreshing, youthful ferocity.

The album opens with the crashing “Chorale”, full
of driving, clustered harmonies. The first solo of the
album is offered up to pianist Gerald Clayton’s assured
swing. It is only after guitarist Nir Felder’s flickering
solo that Wendel steps forward to deliver an angular
solo of his own. Wendel’s winding duet on Dizzy
Gillespie’s “Con Alma” pits him against Clayton.
Through a deft reharmonization and a beautiful closing
unison line (that ends on an oblique “Giant Steps”
reference) the duo take Gillespie’s minimalist melody
into the 21st century. “Backbou” finds Wendel honking
on bassoon. Pianist Tigran Hamasyan pounds out a
solo alongside drummer Nate Wood’s pummeling pots
and pans but Wendel soon takes the reins, placing a
subdued solo over the slightly less subdued rhythm
section. The shifting “Blocks” gets a plunking solo
from bassist Ben Street. Wendel takes a long-toned solo
over another track in which Hamasyan provides
heavy-handed accompaniment. The title track is a fast
moving tune that finds the propulsive rhythm section
leaving ample space for Wendel’s furious weaving
lines. His breathless attack covers the entire range of
his horn, leaving little doubt as to why he might name
the album after this particular performance. The album
closes gently with “Julia”. Over the quiet rumbling of
the album’s third pianist (Adam Benjamin) Wendel
weaves a delicate solo while closing with an orchestral
hum from his bassoon over his overdubbed tenor.

Wendel has created an engaging album, brimming
with unique instrumentation and ample space for all
the musicians involved. His compositional talents
assure his presence even when he is relinquishing the
sound to his bandmates.

Ben Wendel @ NYC Jazz Record

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