Warren Wolf, vibes – Convergence – Mack Avenue

Warren Wolf, vibes – Convergence – Mack Avenue MAC 1105 67:51 ****:

A sure-footed investigation of a smart jazz aesthetic

(Warren Wolf – vibes, marimba 5/6/9/10/11, Fender Rhodes 2/9, piano 9; Christian McBride – bass 1/2/3/5/6/7/8/9/10; Brad Mehldau – piano 1/2/4/5/7; John Scofield – guitar 1/7; Jeff “Tain” Watts – drums 1/2/5/6/7/8/9/10)

There was a period back in the 1970s or so, when rock supergroups were all the rage with the likes of Cream, Traffic, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young among others. Jazz never quite went in that direction apart from the unintended exception of The Quintet ( which came together for one performance only at Massey Hall, Toronto in 1953, and the historic recording that followed) and perhaps VSOP. One never quite thought of the classic Bill Evans Trio or Oscar Peterson Trio or the original Miles Davis Quintet along those lines although it would have been possible to do so. The Warren Wolf release Convergence has combined star power and individuality, and thus  has all the attributes of a supergroup. Thankfully no such promotional efforts have detracted from the breadth and scope of the originality of the music coming from this band.

With a judicious mix of original material and covers of popular music, Wolf and his cohorts bring their ‘A’ game to the recording studio under the practiced ear of producer Christian McBride. “Soul Sister” is a perfect opener with its Latin/funky groove, that serves  as a feature for Scofield’s wickedly bluesy guitar, followed by Wolf’s sonorous vibes, as Watts pushes the band forward with his pulsating beat.

The following track is the session’s longest at over eleven minutes, and is titled “Four Stars From Heaven”. This may relate to the quartet that is on the track, namely Wolf, Mehldau, McBride and Watts. The band goes on a musical consideration of sound and open-ended inquiry of harmonic improvisation. Each member uses his allotment of time, in an experiment of tone-color and rhythm, that serves to capture the essence of the piece. Wolf and McBride engage in a duo number called “King Of Two Fives” where they engage in an open-ended spirit of interplay that demonstrates that they are prolific and adaptable players.

Two interesting covers are Bobby Hutcherson’s “Montara” and Stevie Wonder’s “ Knocks Me Off My Feet” although the track listing on the CD show the name incorrectly as Knocks Me Off Of My Feet.The former is trio setting with Wolf, McBride and Watts with some over-dubbing of Wolf on both vibes and marimba on which Wolf carries the number with some standout single note playing. The latter is also a similar trio number, but though the magic of technology it sounds like a quartet as Wolf has a turn on  both Fender Rhodes and piano as well as vibes and marimba. With a soft ballad feel, there is a romantic harmonic exploration, that provides both an interesting texture and contrast.

The disc closes with two solo efforts from Warren Wolf . Firstly, on marimba, the lovely “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael, that segues into Frederick Chopin’s “The Minute Waltz” which features some over-dubbing with vibes and marimba that lasts over a minute.

Given the band’s unwavering engagement to originality, this session is a sure-footed investigation of a smart jazz aesthetic.

TrackList: Soul Sister; Four Stars From Heaven; King Of Two Fives; New Beginning; Cell Phone; Mantara; Havoc; Tergiversation; Knocks Me Off My Feet; A Prayer For The Christian Man; Stardust/The Minute Waltz

—Pierre Giroux

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