• photography by ©Clara Pereira / text by Filipe Freitas

Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based saxophonist Ben Wendel took a virtuoso quintet to perform at Jazz Standard, where he presented music from The Seasons, a key album in his career and one of the highest moments of 2018. In 2015, Wendel found inspiration on Tchaikovsky’s conceptual work of the same name, writing 12 contemporary pieces to be performed as chamber duets with master musicians of his choice. The pieces were posted on YouTube at that time and had never been released on record until two months ago when the Motéma Music label made it available. Except for Israeli-born guitarist Gilad Hekselman, who was featured on the CD, all the other musicians on the venue's bandstand were a novelty, with pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer Mark Guiliana filling in for Aaron Parks, Matt Brewer, and Eric Harland, respectively.

The set started with “February” (originally written for fellow tenorist Joshua Redman), which, spreading a generic contagious energy, was uplifted by the strong individualities of the improvisers, in the case Wendel and Hekselman. Their sophisticated vocabularies were also transferred to the following tune, “November” (for pianist Aaron Parks), whose pop/rock-ish melodicism became even brighter with Guiliana’s snare-driven backbeat.

Deftly layering loops with the assistance of a foot switch pedal, Hekselman builds an eccentric Afro rhythm as the introduction of “May” (for pianist Shai Maestro). A blues progression then takes shape with Sanders and Guiliana working tightly to pass a sensation of downtempo during the exchanges made between Wendel and Eigsti.

March” (for Matt Brewer), already a sea of melody, had some extra during Sander’s inspired personal statement. The bassist had to play seated for most of the concert, after a stage monitor speaker had fallen on his foot during the morning rehearsal. Prior to “April” (for Eric Harland), which ended the set in a peppy conversational mode, the group played "October" (written for Hekselman), an exultant fusion of African jazz and rock, resembling Lionel Loueke's style.

The ones who were familiar with The Seasons, just realized that this material is as powerful played live as it is on the recording; as for the others, they were obviously enthralled by the band’s extraordinary dynamism and sound.