If you’re not watching and listening carefully, it might be easy to think that Warren Wolf is a study in contradictions.
He can move effortlessly from vibraphone to drums to piano. He’s studied everyone from Mozart to Miles, Bach to Bobby Hutcherson.
And though physically he comes off like a body builder, his touch on the vibe’s bars can be as light as a feather.
But what’s clear is that all of these attributes have worked together to make the 33-year-old Wolf into one of the most formidable young jazz artists on the scene.
“His talent is so far off the radar screen,” Wolf’s mentor, bassist Christian McBride has said. “Everything you want in a musician, he has that times 20.”
Wolf proves the compliment to be no exaggeration on his latest release, Wolfgang, on Mack Avenue Records. An obvious play of words between his name and that of the aforementioned 18th-century composer, Wolfgang is the Baltimore native’s sophomore release on the label, and features two different three-man rhythm sections. One features Benny Green on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, and the Grammy-Award-winning McBride. The other brings together pianist Aaron Goldberg, drummer Billy Williams Jr., and another one of Charm City’s favorite young jazz artists, bassist Kris Funn.
No matter the combo, each track on the album takes you on a lyrical journey, with easy yet rich melodies. “Sunrise,” which opens the CD, feels just like its name, beginning with languid piano chords and slow vibes, building to a bright and breezy dance. “Lake Nerraw Flow,” (Wolf’s name spelled backward) evokes an easy conversation between piano, vibes and bass. “Setembro,” the Ivan Lins/Gilson Peranzzetta composition made classic by Quincy Jones gets an even smoother, more lush take under Wolf’s direction and singer Darryl Tookes’ vocals.
Adding to the mix are two pieces with label mate Aaron Diehl on piano, with whom he shares an appreciation for classical music. “Wolfgang” and “Variations Sur ‘Le Carnival De Venise’” are examples of the kind of rare juxtapositions and conversations between jazz and classical idioms that make music exciting. And rather than sounding jarring or disjointed, Wolf and Diehl elevate the two to a harmonious new space that deserves revisiting.
That the Berklee College of Music grad focused on beautiful melodies for most of the tracks on this release speaks to his mission this time out. “I wanted to display the beauty of the vibes,” Wolf is says on the album’s press materials. “It goes back to my goal for this album: record melodies that people actually enjoy.”
Tune in all month long as we feature tracks from the release and give you an opportunity to win Wolfgang, our CD of the Month on WEAA 88.9 FM.
Carla E. Wills