Never one to swoop into the limelight or blithely steal the show, vibraphonist Bill Ware has built a model résumé that weaves silently and inscrutably through the best of most modern genres. Ware's Played Right accordingly shows the touch of a resilient, serpentine stylist, a master of quiet spectacle.
Titles alone offer a provocative cross-section of popular music's historythe Modern Jazz Quartet's "Django" follows a few cuts after Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and closes out in turn for the standard "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise." Ware demonstrates a grasp, not only of each intrinsic idiom, but a handle on classic jazz technique that never descends into the formulaic.
He is an ace at varying tempos. Played Right opens with hard bop icon Hank Mobley's "A Baptist Beat" and segues into the original "Speak with Helen," alternating between a bossa nova and swing beat, scented faintly with the standard "Speak Low." "Del Sasser," a straight-ahead, allegro bop tune by Sam Jones, chases this and then another original, "Jacki"a ballad reminiscent in its nuances of John Coltrane's "Naima"cleanses the palate. Drummer Lenny White has his say while never overpowering the subdued intricacy of the other musicians.
Transition between vibes and piano is seamless, credit going to the leader's keen listening skills as well as to pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs' soulful lyricism. Ware cooks on a low burn until he feels out where the other musicians are going and only then does he strike out and impress with his four-mallet attacks of chords, cadences and arpeggios, surprising in every measure.
Ware's work is all about balance, compression and confluence, about making a song from the '40s appeal to a young audience or rendering a '90s grunge anthem agreeable to a fan of Horace Silver. For that alone, Played Right is a splendid effort and a delight.
A Baptist Beat; Speak with Helen; Del Sasser; Jacki; Low and Behold Suite 1; Phase Dance;
Maxine; Smells Like Teen Spirit; Low and Behold Suite 2; I Know Why; Crebwalk; Django;
Softly As in a Morning Sunrise; Reunion; Low and Behold Suite 3; Another Girl.
Bill Ware: electric vibraphone, Yamaha Mokkin; Lenny White: drums; Onaje Allan Gumbs:
piano; Brad Jones: bass; Bill Washer: guitar (2, 7, 11); Matt King:
piano [3, 7); Chris Theberge: percussion.
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