The Ben Wolfe Octet at The Jazz Standard, NYC
The Jazz Standard
New York City, New York
June 4, 2008
Bassist Ben Wolfe took the stage on this night to present music from his new release on MaxJazz, No Strangers Here. As usual for CD release gigs, a lot of press was present as were many friends of the musicians. However, the atmosphere was, for some reason, not one of expectation and excitement, and Wolfe tried to counter it with humorous patter. Compounding the atmosphere was a sound imbalance that rendered Wolfe's bass almost inaudible at times, at least in the back. Hopefully, this was fixed for the second set.
In any case, the show went on, with the band playing tracks from the album in a slightly different order. The main concept at play is having a straight-ahead jazz quartet (Marcus Strickland: saxophones; Luis Perdomo: piano; Greg Hutchinson: drums; and Wolfe) expanded by a string quartet (Jesse Mills: violin; Cyrus Beroukhim: violin; Kenji Bunch: viola; Alistair MacRae: cello).
Wolfe has a nice melodic touch and his compositions present a balance between the structured, easily remembered lines of a standard, and the trickier lines of modern jazz composition. Most of the other complications revolved around sections that changed meter or rhythm, including, but going beyond, shifting to double time.
The string quartet added a nice sheen and some different colors when it was added to the mix, and it was fun to watch them getting into the groove created when they were not playing. While the part writing was interesting in itself, the strings felt like an add-on when they played and were not missed when they did not play. The density and complexity of the music would have been increased had the string players been able, and given the opportunity, to improvise.
There was no question of the quality of the music or of the contributions of Perdomo, Strickland and Hutchinson. The quartet's playing could have filled a set by itself, especially if they had been allowed to take off. Having been to a number of CD release gigs, many times the attempt to play most of the tracks from the CD runs against digging deep into any particular selection.
The album, which adds other guest soloists like Branford Marsalis (saxophones), Terell Stafford (trumpet) and Victor Goines (bass clarinet) on various tracks, is much sharper and tighter and is well worth listening to.