Jazz has made great strides toward becoming a world music. Regional differences are like spices; they add something special to each song. When Duke Ellington’s orchestra first played "Caravan" for audiences, the exotic rhythm and harmony appealed to their sense of adventure. Similarly, when Miles Davis introduced "In A Silent Way," it brought that same desire for exotic elements to his listening audiences. Most jazz fans share a desire for free boundaries and an appreciation of the unpredictable in their listening habits. The inclusion of exotic instruments and mesmerizing rhythms alongside jazz piano makes Michael Wolff’s latest album catch your ear right from the start. It’s a blend. Creative and improvised elements from around the world are brought together into one tight band named Impure Thoughts.
Wolff, who grew up in New Orleans, Memphis and Berkeley as a child prodigy, first worked with Cal Tjader at age 19. His career took off with Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band. As musical director for Nancy Wilson and later for the Arsenio Hall television variety show, Wolff practiced his love of straight-ahead jazz with many well-known leaders. Composing and performing for the motion picture industry has now moved the pianist into the limelight; he also has a role in the play Jules’ Blues, and a documentary due out later this year. Wolff’s band, Impure Thoughts, may be the most significant aspect of his career.
The band combines Afro-Cuban, Indian, and familiar rhythms. Drones and percussion sounds lay the framework, while saxophone and piano offer melody. What makes Impure Thoughts different, though, is (1) the intricate, ostinato role of the acoustic bassist and (2) the parallel designs from tablas and congas. Wolff and Alex Foster provide creative jazz improvisation throughout. Recommended, the music offers variety within the genre, while combining widely separate elements in a natural way.