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Contemporary Jazz, Slightly Offstream

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Michael Wolff & Impure Thoughts
Jazz Alley (Seattle)
November 7, 2000

Michael Wolff and Impure Thoughts blew into town accompanying the incoming weather front with a hard-driving rainstorm of its own—one of trance-like percussion and bass grooves and heavy winds blowin' in over the reeds and piano strings. The light "voter turnout" for the first set was undoubtedly due to the heavy turnout at the polls and the anticipation of the presidential race. This didn't stop the band from groovin' down to their toes and rockin' the souls of those who vote for music over politics.
The band consisted of: Michael Wolff—Piano, leader/composer Walchinho-Conga, timbale, bongo, berimbao, caxixi, pandeiro, and assorted Latin percussion Badal Roy-Tabla Dan Jordan-Soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, flute, and piccolo. John B. Williams-Electric stand-up bass Victor Jones-Drums
The set opened with Wolff's "Eritrea" from the Impure Thoughts album. It became readily apparent that the musicians were all multigenre polyglots, familiar with many styles and movements in popular—and for Wolff, even classical—music. A finger-poppin' bass-percussion groove was established by Messrs. Roy, Walchinho (on Caxixi) , and Jones, over which reedman Jordan displayed a large-intervaled virtuosity, gesticulating his body jerkily and unpredictably, to lift the groove to new heights on his soprano sax. Wolff's piano solo was well textured, blending tributes to classical, fusion and avant-garde genres, and slowly but inexorably built a crescendoed climax to an already toe-burning groove.
The band included an impressive list of musicians, each of whom got somewhat limited opportunities to solo but nonetheless made the most of them. An unnamed Latin tune displayed the fine talent of bassist John B. Williams, who made it clear that he was no stranger to the world of spacious Tumbao/Mambo. I enjoyed the simultaneous polyrhythmns of Walchinho on pandeiro (Brazilian tamborine), as I did the complex rhythmic precision of Miles Davis alumnus, Badal Roy, who displayed rich hand-to-hand independence on his five chordally-tuned tablas. For this reviewer the most unusual voice of the group belonged to multireedist Dan Jordan, who employed herky jerky and Dave Leibman-like long interval leaps to excellently offset the group's characteristic jazz-fusion-funk based grooves.

What seemed to be the high point of the set came early on: the second tune was Wolff's rendition of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", where bassist Williams employed the bass line from Miles' "Shhh......Peaceful" from his 1970 masterpiece, In a Silent Way. This period of Miles' music proved to be a rubicon for the direction of a major current in jazz, and was attended then and now by Badal Roy, whose electric presence induced a wonderful trance quality, richly texturing the music. It was on top of this that Wolff delivered his most unconventional leaping and loping, plinking and clinking solo of the set; it cooked.

I wonder about the name "Impure thoughts"; is this to suggest a mixing of musical idioms? If so, fine. If not, I am confused, because last night's performance approached being "pure music", which arises from beyond the realm of thought. Seattle welcomes Wolff & Co. for an all too brief stay.


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