Album Review: Warren Wolf – Wolfgang

THe following review first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Warren Wolf

warren wolf

WOLFGANG – Mack Avenue Records MAC 1077  Sunrise; Frankie and Johnny; Grand Central; Wolfgang; Annoyance; Lake Nerraw Flow; Things Were Done Yesterday; Setembro; Le Carnaval de Venise

PERSONNEL: Warren Wolf, vibes, marimba; Benny Green, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Aaron Goldberg, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Billy Williams, Jr., drums; Aaron Diehl, piano; Darryl Tookes, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

It seems that Warren Wolf appeared out of nowhere a couple of years ago and immediately became the hottest young vibraphonist in jazz. In addition to his work as a leader he is a member of Christian McBride’s terrific quintet, Inside Straight. He also plays with pianist Aaron Diehl who has grabbed a lot of attention with his debut album; and he recently took over the vibes chair in the SF Jazz Collective, following in the formidable footsteps of Stefon Harris and Bobby Hutcherson.  Though he also is proficient on drums and piano, Mr. Wolf has done most of his recording on the vibes, with Wolfgang being his second album for Mack Avenue and sixth overall. I found his eponymous prior Mack Avenue release to be promising but uneven. On Wolfgang, those rough spots have been filed away, leaving an artistic statement that is strong, cohesive and musically diverse.

Wolf employs two different groups on this album, each one helping to push his sound in a different direction.  The first features a younger generation of musicians – pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Kris Funn and drummer Billy Williams, Jr. The second trio is comprised of better known veterans, Mr. McBride on bass, Lewis Nash on drums and pianist Benny Green. The younger cats employ a lighter touch which fit nicely with Wolf originals such as “Sunrise”, a sprightly waltz tempoed number that gives Wolf plenty of room to stretch out and display his virtuosity. McBride’s influence (and bass) is all over the three tracks anchored by the veteran trio. The tempos are more defined and the sound is decidedly more soulful. On “Frankie & Johnny” they pay an obvious tribute to the version of this tune that was performed by Ray Brown and Milt Jackson on their late ‘60’s live album That’s the Way It Is. Wolf and company kick off with a repeat of the unforgettably nasty bass and low-end piano vamp that Brown and Monty Alexander patented on the original. McBride even repeats Brown’s shout of “yeah” at just the right moment. Wolf then jumps in, swinging like “Bags” and they are off to the races. If you aren’t at least bobbing your head by the end of this one, check your pulse. “Grand Central” featuring the “youngsters”, is a hard-driving post-bop exploration, with Wolf spraying line after line over Goldberg’s block chords, building the tension until it explodes into a joyous 4/4 sprint. “Things Were Done Yesterday” sounds like an outtake from one of the Inside Straight albums, with its extremely catchy melody line, Mc Bride’s bass almost forcing your fingers to snap and Benny Green showing his Bobby Timmons influence on his piano solo.

Most striking are the two selections performed as duets with Mr. Diehl. Like Diehl, Wolf cut his teeth on classical music and has a great appreciation for the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and other classical composers, in addition to a love of jazz. Together they display this love and their striking technical proficiency on the title track, an obvious nod to Amadeus, in name as well as style. Through most of the album, Wolf sounds a little like the post MJQ Milt Jackson. Here, it is Jackson and John Lewis and absolutely beautiful.

Wolfgang is the most mature album of Warren Wolf’s brief career. His growth as a musician, composer and arranger are all evident from first note to last. Wolf is someone to keep your eyes on, as his future looks extremely bright.

2 Responses to “Album Review: Warren Wolf – Wolfgang”

  1. […] Vibraphonist Wolf’s follow up to his Mack Avenue debut is the most mature and cohesive album of his burgeoning young career. Split between tracks with his working band and an all-star group, Wolf’s growth as a musician, composer and arranger are all evident from first note to last. (Read my full review for Jazz Inside Magazine HERE.) […]

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