There is technical excellence, there is pretty, there is a well-honed trio, there is an in-sync guest saxophonist, and yet, and yet....
Open House is London-based guitarist Tom Ollendorff's follow-up to A Song For You (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2021), his debut, which also featured bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Marc Michel. The vibe is the same as on the earlier album, but there are differences in the detail. This time out, five, rather than eight, of the nine tracks are Ollendorff originals. And on four tracks, the trio is augmented by tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel.
The covers play to Ollendorf's strengths. Jet-speed readings of Charlie Parker's "Bongo Beep" and Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" are showcases for his virtuosic technique. Victor Young's "My Foolish Heart" is a perfect vehicle for his lyricism, just as Vernon Duke's "Autumn In New York" was on A Song For You. Ollendorff's own compositions are well crafted, though not memorable. Overall, the choice of material is good.
The presence of Wendel is more problematic. With a trio of this stature (Chaplin and Michel are emerging stars in their own right), and a leader with such a sophisticated harmonic flair, the presence of a horn gets in the way. At times, Ollendorff is relegated to a secondary role not unlike that of Jim Hall on Sonny Rollins' The Bridge (RCA, 1962) or What's New (RCA, 1962)when what one really wants to hear on a sophomore set is more of the leader.
But above all, what is lacking, or at least elusive, on Open House is a sense of emotional depth. If Ollendorff was compared with a pianist, his harmonic touch might suggest Bill Evans, but the most pervasive resonance is instead Oscar Peterson, a virtuoso player whose work was typically glib rather than uplifting. Evans, on other hand, combined technique with soul, a far more attractive offer.
Ollendorff and his label are perhaps simply trying too hard. There was a sense of this on A Song For You, but now it is more pronounced. Ollendorff is a potentially substantial young talent. He should not be rushed.
Three Bridges; Bongo Beep; Passing Ships; Carnival; My Foolish Heart; Istanbul; Istanbul Coda; Airegin; Hollywood.
Title: Open House
| Year Released: 2023
| Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent
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