Archive for christian mcbride

Album Review: Warren Wolf – Wolfgang

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , on September 9, 2013 by curtjazz

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.

Grammys 2012 Nominees – Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Posted in 2012 Grammys, The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault with tags , , , , , , on February 11, 2012 by curtjazz

The nominees in this category are mostly familiar names, with the possible exception of Miguel Zenón. Two of the albums here probably ended up in this grouping because of the elimination of the Latin Jazz category.

The Nominees Are:

Randy Brecker with DR Big Band – The Jazz Ballad Songbook (Half Note): Track “All or Nothing at All”

Frankly, this nomination is a bit of a  head scratcher.  Randy Brecker is a gifted musician without a doubt, and the Danish Radio Big Band has done some fine work on many, many recordings.  But the arrangements here border on pedestrian and the whole date feels as generic as its title.  The exception is our feature track, which is first rate.  Still, don’t be surprised if Mr. Brecker wins this award, based mostly on name recognition.

Christian McBride Big Band – The Good Feeling (Mack Avenue)

The finest jazz bassist under 40 has now added a big band to his impressive repertoire. The Good Feeling is a solid first effort with a number of impressive tracks and creative arrangements from Mr. McBride’s pen.

Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra – 40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho): Featured Track: “40 Acres and a Burro”

Arturo O’Farrill continues to do his father’s legacy proud, as he has created another thought-provoking album, that has as much for your mind as it does for your feet. If this album were in the Latin Jazz category, it would be a strong contender. But now, it’s a bit of a longshot.

Gerald Wilson – Legacy (Mack Avenue)

Gerald Wilson has been arranging leading big bands since the days of Basie, Ellington and Goodman and he shows no sign of slowing down at age 93, writing arrangements that are dense, complex, brassy and swinging all at once. This album, Legacy is up to the fine standards that he has been hitting regularly for the past 15 years. A sentimental favorite.

Miguel Zenón – Alma Adentro [The Puerto Rican Songbook] (Marsalis Music)

Another album that would have likely competed in the now defunct Latin Jazz category, Alma Adentro is a stunning work of art. (A Curt’s Cafe Best of 2011) Mr. Zenón is at the top of his artistic game and it shows in the brilliance of his arrangements of these songs by some of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated composers.  Because he is a relative unknown, Zenón is not considered a favorite in the voting, but this is the best album of those nominated. If there’s any justice, Alma Adentro will win.

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011 – Warren Wolf

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on May 23, 2011 by curtjazz

If you’re a jazz fan, you’ve probably heard Warren Wolf’s work, even if you’ve never heard his name.  Though Mr. Wolf has not yet released an album domestically as a leader (his Mack Avenue debut is due out this fall), the multi-instrumentalist has made some very impressive guest appearances with headliners such as Jeremy Pelt, Bobby Watson, Tia Fuller and Christian McBride, as a member of McBride’s group “Inside Straight”.  Christian will return the favor by joining Wolf in his AJF performance.

Though he is also a virtuoso on piano and drums, Mr. Wolf is known mostly for his work on the vibes.  Originally from Baltimore, he was a child prodigy, whose musical education began at three.  Mr. Wolf is a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts and the prestigious Berklee College of Music.  He has recorded two albums that have been released in Japan: Incredible Jazz Vibes, with Mulgrew Miller on piano, Vicente Archer on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums; and Black Wolf with Miller, Rodney Whitaker and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.

Warren Wolf is sure to bring some powerful and exciting jazz to the Atlanta Jazz Festival this weekend. Wolf, with special guest Christian McBride, will take the stage at 7 pm on Saturday, May 28. We hope to see you there!

For further information about the 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website:

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011 – Let’s GO!

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2011 by curtjazz

2011 Official AJF Artwork - created by Daniel Murdoch

I’ve lived in the South for over 10 years now. There’s much about my life here that I like, but I’ve always missed the easy access to great straight ahead jazz that New York always provided.  Hell, even “smooth” jazz has become hard to find recently.

I’d recently settled into a certain amount of complacency about hearing jazz live. Basically, if it didn’t fall right into my lap. I admit, I didn’t make a lot of effort to find it. Well, that will change in 2011. There is a good deal of live jazz below the Mason-Dixon line, you just have to seek it, find it and then, here’s the hardest part…get off your “rusty dusty” and go.

Last Saturday night, my Queen and I were sitting around relaxing. Our son was asleep and the house was quiet. She looked up her work schedule for the next two weeks and discovered that she had been blessed with the entire Memorial Day weekend off.  Excitedly, she said to me “Baby, we should do something!” We kicked around a few ideas, and then I remembered that the Atlanta Jazz Fest was traditionally on Memorial Day weekend.

Gerald Clayton

I knew of the AJF, but hadn’t paid much attention in the past, because a) usually one (or both) of us had to work that weekend and b) I had assumed that it was another package of slick instrumentalists and R & B vocalists, passing itself off as a “jazz” festival. Don’t get me wrong, I dig some of these artists. Many are quite gifted; it’s just not what I look for when I want to hear jazz. Well, you know what happens when you assume.

I looked at the lineup and saw Christian McBride, Regina Carter, Sean Jones, Gerald Clayton, Christian Scott and more…Okay, NOW I was excited! These are my people. This is a place that the fan and the writer in me wants to be.

Regina Carter

My wife, asked cautiously “Okay, how much are the tickets?” I looked down at computer screen and then looked up with what, judging from my wife’s reaction, must have been a look of maniacal joy and I slowly uttered “It’s…Free” (5/28 & 5/29). She repeated my words, I nodded and she said “Let’s GO!”

Sean Jones

Thanks to the miracle of online shopping, within 30 minutes we had reserved our hotel room, reserved a rental car and bought three new lawn chairs. I had to tell somebody about this, even if it was midnight, so I dropped a note on Twitter to share the news with our extended jazz family. 

My excitement has been growing by the day since then.  Great jazz is on my Southern doorstep again; and this time, I’m going to answer.

We will post something on the blog every day, from now until the Atlanta Jazz Festival; about the festival itself, the artists or our preparation. For more on the AJF 2011, visit their website