On the strength of his membership in ensembles led by Christian McBride and Aaron Diehl and his own auspicious Mack Avenue debut in 2011, Warren Wolf appears on a path to stardom as arguably the most exciting bop vibraphonist since Bobby Hutcherson. For Wolfgang, his followup collection on Mack Avenue, Wolf said he wanted to showcase his writing skills and provide more melodies that people can remember. For precisely those reasons, Wolfgang suffers by comparison with his previous work.
Prominent jazz vibraphonists have always been relatively few and Warren Wolf has the potential to be one of the top players of his generation. Wolf is joined by bassist Christian McBride, pianist Peter Martin, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, with guest appearances by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and saxophonist Tim Green. Wolf is a master of lyricism and restraint with his spacious interpretation of Johnny Mandel's timeless ballad "Emily." He doubles on vibes and marimba in an intricate interpretation of Chick Corea's "Señor Mouse." Six of the songs are originals by the leader. The composer takes a back seat in the sensual "Natural Beauties," showcasing Martin and Green (the latter on soprano sax) first before adding his dazzling solo.
The reference to some exquisitely dressed man in the title of this release also conveys the stylistic bent of pianist Aaron Diehl's noteworthy debut on Mack Avenue. He is among a list of rising jazz pianists which include Gerald Clayton and Aaron Parks. The recording brings to life a project that was conceived in Indianapolis after Diehl, 26, earned first place in American Pianists Association's 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship.
For years, I have known a certain truth– don't sleep on Warren Wolf. the master vibraphonist has snuck up on me one too many times on releases of his own. He rolled through San Antonio three times in 2015 and never failed to impress. His work with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah's large ensemble is a surprise and not a surprise at the same time. He has maintained a beautiful melodicism in his playing that would seem obvious for his instrument but he surpasses such expectations again and again. He's an unmistakable talent. He shouldn't be slept on. This is no more apparent than in his latest album, Convergence on Mack Avenue.
Clarinetist Dave Bennett's Don't Be That Way is a throwback album, but it's not a carbon copy of what's come before. Bennett certainly finds inspiration in the work of past masters, driving down the highways and byways that have been paved by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and others, but he's willing to look at their music with a fresh set of eyes; he's a centrist, but not a complete traditionalist. He'll occasionally throw a curve ball on a well-known tune, as demonstrated on the Brazilian-coated title track, but the ball always goes back over the plate in the end, locking in to some form of widely established and accepted practice.
Richard Elliot's In the Zone picks up where 2009's Rock Steady left off. Where that album paid tribute to the saxophonist's R&B heroes, In the Zone, which marks Elliot's 25th anniversary as a recording artist, offers a thank-you to the influences of his predecessors in the smooth jazz genre: namely Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, and Bob James.