Ben Wolfe – Fatherhood – Resident Arts Records RA8448 – 45:27 – ****1/2
2019 has been a strong year for jazz musicians honoring their fathers. Jim Snidero made a gorgeous CD, titled, Waves of Calm, earlier this Spring on Savant Records. Now we have New York based bassist, Ben Wolfe’s new CD, Fatherhood, just released at the end of August. Ben’s father, Daniel, passed away last year, and Wolfe presents a heartfelt tribute to his dad with a presentation of ten tracks (nine are originals), that have a deep beauty, enhanced on seven numbers, by a four piece string section (two violins, viola, and cello).
The string quartet is made up of noted musicians, led by Grammy nominated violinist, Jesse Mills. Their inclusion does honor to Daniel Wolfe, a violinist, who played with the San Antonio Symphony. Ben’s father introduced him to jazz during his childhood in Baltimore, and Portland, Oregon.
What stands out on Wolfe’s CD are a merging of chamber music, strong saxophone/brass ensemble blend, and lots of features for the brilliant young vibist, Joel Ross. Ross has an elegance that brings to mind, Milt Jackson, and his communication with pianists, Orrin Evans and Luis Perdomo, is intuitive.
Wolfe knows young talent, and in addition to Ross, we hear Immanuel Ross on alto sax on “Blind Seven.” Ruben Fox’s airy tenor sax vibrato on the sumptuous ballad, “Gone Now,” has a “Pres like” feel. 19 year old trumpet phenom, Giveton Gelin from the Bahamas (let’s hope his family is all right after the recent hurricane there), shines brightly on “Opener” and “Uncle Leslie.” Those two tracks, done without strings, are special- the former featuring JD Allen on tenor, and the latter, done in waltz time, has Ben on a tender bass solo.
Other winning numbers include “The Enforcer,” written for hometown Portland Trailblazer, Maurice Lucas, whose toughness under the boards earned him that nickname. “The Kora La” is the name of a famous mountain pass between China and Nepal used as an old route. Here Wolfe takes us on a complex musical journey merging chamber music, modal themes, straight ahead jazz , and a touch of dissonance. It’s the longest track here, and part of a 35 minute suite that Wolfe composed for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
“Edged” is written in 9/4 time, and the cross communication between vibist Ross, pianist, Luis Perdomo, and the four piece string section is exemplary. The CD closes with a 1939 standard, “What’s New,” written by Bob Haggard and lyricist, Johnny Burke. It’s a romantic ballad, done with the rhythm section, and Joel Ross.
Liner notes for the CD are provided by jazz historian and noted Monk biographer, Robin D.G. Kelley. The acoustic mix is first rate, recorded at Sear Sound in New York City, and mastered by Mark Wilder.
Ben had the recording done without headphones, and the musicians playing together in the same room, which is fairly unique for today’s standards.
Daniel Wolfe would have been mighty proud of his boy, Ben for this classy first rate project. It’s a work of love…
(Ben Wolfe – bass; Donald Edwards – drums; Luis Perdomo – piano (1, 6-9); Orrin Evans – piano (2-5, 10); Joel Ross – vibes; Immanuel Wilkins – alto sax (1, 7); Ruben Fox – tenor sax (2); JD Allen – tenor sax (3,5); Giveton Gelin -trumpet (3,4); Steve Davis – trombone (8)
Strings (all tracks except 3-5) ): Jesse Mills – violin; Georgy Valtchev – violin; Kenji Bunch – viola; Wolfram Koessel – cello)
The Kora La
First Things First