Bennie Wallace – Moodsville – Prestige/ Groove Note GRV1010-1 two 45 rpm vinyls, 50:53 ****:
Saxophonist combines traditional jazz plus hi-resolution.
(Bennie Wallace – tenor saxophone; Peter Washington – doublebass; Mulgrew Miller – piano; Lewis Nash – drums)
Jazz saxophonist Bennie Wallace draws heavily on his Tennessee roots. From his early days with the high school jazz orchestra, he understood the varied tempo signatures and moods of American post-bop jazz. Wallace has played with Barry Harris, Buddy Rich and Ray Anderson. His most significant recording output has come as a band leader. His albums have included Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Barron, Jack DeJohnette, Dr. John, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Scofield, Elvin Jones and Chick Corea. For nearly four decades, Wallace has explored jazz from many stylistic perspectives.
Wallace’s latest release, Moodsville pays homage to the great Prestige and Moodsville label sessions of the late 1950s. This double 45 rpm. vinyl has been recorded in full analog technology with accessible results. Utilizing a classic jazz quartet, (tenor, piano, double bass and drums) Wallace offers melodic interpretations of standards and complex jazz compositions. Side A opens with a cover of “I’ll Never Smile Again”. For anyone familiar with Harry James’ big band version (featuring the boyish Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers), this will be quite different. Wallace brings a sultry fluidity to the piece, caressing the melody. He adds punch to his playing at the right moments. Pianist Mulgrew Miller adds delicate articulate notation on his solo. Taking on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”, the group adopts an Afro-Cuban medium swing vibe. There are subtle tempo shifts and Wallace shades the melody with graceful warmth. Mulgrew’s commanding solos make it feel like an accomplished piano trio.
Great jazz artists know how to transform popular music. “April In Paris” features well-timed vibrato and melancholic resonance that draws out the intrinsic whimsy of this song, but in a sophisticated manner. On Miles Davis’ “Milestones” Wallace and Mulgrew initiate a unison lead as cool swing permeates the jam. This cut is decidedly edgier and features a solo by Peter Washington. Lewis Nash contributes nimble, varied drum fills. The flow of the album alternates with pop and jazz. “When A Man Loves A woman” is traditional balladry Wallace’s mellow, smoke sax lines are complemented by the artistic lyricism of Miller (who fires on all cylinders in an extended solo that showcases a percolating right hand run).
A pleasant surprise is the “salsa-like” arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. Porter’s musical structures have always been popular with jazz artists. Miller cuts loose on piano and Nash gets a well-deserved solo. The group takes on another Porter opus (“I Concentrate On You”) with Latin sensibility. There is a cool, finger-snapping break and a walking bass line that makes this fresh. Wallace pushes the tonal boundaries of his instrument. Side D also includes two Billy Strayhorn compositions. “My Little Brown Book” features a graceful transition from the verse to chorus. There are subtle up-tempo nuances, but the ballad aura remains intact. The finale, “A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing” is terrific and Miller’s shimmering introduction elevates the melodic essence of Strayhorn.
The audio quality of Moodsville is superior. The sonic facets and rich tones are captured vibrantly on 45 r.p.m. vinyl. Bernie Grundman’s skillful mastering connects the live performance energy to advanced studio technology. The stereo separation is impeccable and the individual instrumentation is rendered with crispness and specific detail. Drum brushes, backing double bass lines are vibrant. Wallace’s tenor is full-bodied and sharp. This album swings and sounds great – better than it ever did at 33 1/3!
Side A: I’ll Never Smile Again; Con Alma
Side B: April In Paris; Milestones
Side C: When A Man Loves A Woman; Love For Sale
Side D: My Little Brown Book; I Concentrate On You; A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing