Saxophonist Ben Wendel came up with a unique approach for this album of duets. He plays with a different musician on each of these six tracks, but while his guests stick to their primary instruments, Wendel fills in the space around them with multiple saxophone and bassoon parts, electronic effects, and percussion.
The most conventional results of this approach are heard in the two vocal tracks. Cecile McLorin Salvant's sensitive singing on "I Loves You Porgy" and José James' soulful baritone on "Tenderly" are each supported by a dense wall of reeds that approximate the massed harmonies of a pipe organ. Wendel also solos on these tracks, playing a line of tenor sax that rises up to complement the voices.
On "In Anima" Tigran Hamasyan's dark, repeating piano chords dialogue with waves of processed, moaning saxophones and a ghostly tenor briefly plunges through the din. Terence Blanchard's trumpet goes through processing on "Wanderers" as it bounces against a Philip Glass-like background of repeating sax notes. Blanchard gets to soar melodically in multiple tracks before rolling over a chorus of chattering bassoons. By contrast, on "Speak Joy" Elena Pinderhughes, is mostly a single bright flute voice that holds its own against more minimalist repetitions and Wendel's ponderous solo bassoon blasts. Bill Frisell is no stranger to electronic looping and manipulation and he sounds at home sliding his way through his own composition, "Throughout." His guitar lyrically navigates Wendel's gently waving reed atmosphere, melting naturally into it as Wendel plays his most eloquent tenor statements of the album.
Ben Wendel has shown his ability as a player before but the concept and arranging of this ambitious project is new territory for him. He creates a lot of stimulating settings for his collaborators to work with and emerges with lovely and distinctive music.
I Loves You Porgy; Wanderers; Throughout; Speak Joy; Tenderly; In Anima.
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