Ben Wolfe - Fatherhood

Label: Self-released, 2019

Personnel - Immanuel Wilkins: alto saxophone; JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin: trumpet; Luis Perdomo: piano; Orrin Evans: piano; Ben Wolfe: bass; Donald Edwards: drums.

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Ben Wolfe, a bassist from Baltimore with a deeply centered sound, pays tribute to his late father on Fatherhood, a collection of ten accessible tunes (nine Wolfe originals and one standard) offering old and new flavors. Wolfe worked with everybody, from Woody Shaw to Wynton Marsalis to a bunch of disparate pianists like Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr., Eric Reed, and James Moody.

For this special recording, he convened longtime associates - pianists Luis Perdomo and Orrin Evans, tenor saxist JD Allen, and drummer Donald Edwards - but also intense players from the new generation, cases of vibraphonist Joel Ross and altoist Immanuel Wilkins, two young lions who start off their duties here by alternating bars on “Blind Seven”, a re-contextualized former hit. They do it under a sweltering swinging pressure and before the theme statement, following a completely different arrangement from what was presented in the original 1997 version. A competent quartet of strings produces a curious undercurrent here. Its presence might not be a novelty in Wolfe’s music - he had incorporated it on No Strangers Here (Maxjazz, 2008) - but gives a unique touch to seven of the ten pieces, where they bridge the worlds of jazz and classical music.

There are plenty of swinging moments along the way, with “Opener” and “The Enforcer” at the head of the list. The former features the relaxed phrasing from 19-year-old Bahamian trumpeter Giveton Gelin, in addition to JD Allen’s tenor blows, carried out with inside focus and strong hard-bop feel, and pianist Orrin Evans’ explorations with occasional horn fills decorating the scenario. In turn, the latter piece, dedicated to former NBA player Maurice Lucas, is a post-bop groover featuring Allen and Ross in parallel but also discoursing individually with astute rhythmic maneuvers.

Edged” does justice to its title, flowing restlessly with a 9/4 time prior to incurring in some wise rhythmic variations. Under the unfaltering guidance of Wolfe and Edwards, it’s very safe to expand ideas, and that’s what Ross and Perdomo bring about. Together, and in the good company of the string quartet put together by Grammy-nominated violinist Jesse Mills, they intonate a fleet of emotions.

The choices are varied when it comes to ballads, in their majority based off of tradition. “Gone Now”, for example, has the young British saxophonist Ruben Fox evoking Lester Young with a breathy, mellow tone; “It’s True” offers sympathetic melodies limned by vibraphone and violin; and Bob Haggart’s “What’s New”, the sole non-original on the record, doesn’t need an introduction but was re-arranged with a cultivated taste.

I couldn’t finish this review without raving about “The Kora La”, a half-meditative, half-expansive odyssey across the Himalayan region that picturesquely illustrates this linking point between China and Nepal. Swinging passages alternate with classical reflections, where the presence of the strings is deeply felt. While Perdomo decorates his movements with lavish rhythmic figures, Wilkins makes a hair-raising entrance, after which he rises with creative ideas.

Mature jazz is the result of this assemblage of well-rounded and versatile musicians interpreting compositions that will have no trouble to connect with the audiences.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Blind Seven ► 05 - The Enforcer ► 07 - The Kora La