REVIEW: ‘High Heart’ – Ben Wendel

A BIG HEART… and a big impact! Saxophonist Ben Wendel’s new sextet release, featuring the superbly adroit voice of Michael Mayo, was an immediate ‘ear grab’ on its first hearing and has since gone on to prove itself as an album which occupies a quite distinct contemporary jazz groove.

Canadian-born, raised in Los Angeles, and now residing in New York, Wendel’s career has seen him work alongside artists including Tigran Hamasyan, Eric Harland, Joshua Redman, Linda May Han Oh, Prince, and is a founding member of Kneebody.



For High Heart, his fifth recording as leader, Shai Maestro and Gerald Clayton interchange piano and Fender Rhodes (a masterstroke), supported by the fiery, industrious rhythm section of double bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Nate Wood. The tenorist’s neat band integration (rather than static, upfront soloing), plus a precise melodic pairing with vocalist Mayo, defines this abundant exploration of his clearly well-crafted music; and what sets it particularly ‘high’ is the almost outrageous technique, synchronicity and rapidity of these players’ performances, delivering frissons of excitement reminiscent of 1970s fusion bands.

This is, however, emphatically a recording for the here and now, described as a statement on society’s ‘increasing complexity, oversaturation and social imbalance’ in an ‘increasingly impersonal time’. The album’s ‘cover heart’ interprets designer Oli Bentley’s son’s simple line drawing, which the five-year-old slipped under the door for him during a digital meeting with Wendel – and as Bentley says, The simplicity and innocence of the symbol, its link to the title we had just been discussing, and the human connection it made through a closed door – I knew there wasn’t anything I could possibly bring to this project that was more personal or contained more humanity than this”.

Eight original numbers draw the attention in, more and more deeply, the pensive title track’s swirling motion introducing Wendel’s and Mayo’s close partnership. Burning Bright (inspired by William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’) unlfurls the band’s wondrously agile interaction as shared vocal-and-sax phrases and keyboard improvisations pull in and out of focus across its constantly skittering rhythm (witness Nate’s Wood’s fabulous composure in the videos, linked below). Wendel’s compositional diversity is impressive, the mechanically angular piano and Rhodes intro of Kindly contrasting well with its legato (even soporific) repeated figure from sax and voice; and lofty hymn, Less, takes Mayo’s gentler, wordless tones up into the firmament, carried on waves of piano and effects.

Up there in the album’s highlights, with hints of Pat Metheny and Weather Report, is positively bustling Drawn Away, complete with bluesy, Latinesque piano break. But more than anything, it’s the busy, combined weave of each individual contribution which elevates it – a real repeat-player, and a true feel-good. A sense of urgency, perhaps reflecting the album’s warning of ‘impersonality’, is heard in disquieted Fearsome, with Wendel’s sprawling tenor the orator. Similarly, the dazed soundtrack vibe of Darling – dedicated to a dear friend – feels ominous, as if to suggest the theme of sleepwalking into dispassion, before Traveler’s effected piano and percussion lead away to vocally harmonized meditation.

In High Heart, Ben Wendel’s music appears to progressively ‘commentate’ on the need for greater societal empathy. Above all, though, it’s the zeal of this band which shines through in gloriously exhilarating fashion.

Released on 30 October 2020 and available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Edition Records and Bandcamp.

Videos: Burning Bright and Drawn Away.

 

Ben Wendel tenor saxophone, EFX, piano, wurlitzer, bassoon
Shai Maestro piano, Fender Rhodes
Gerald Clayton piano, Fender Rhodes
Michael Mayo voice, EFX
Joe Sanders double bass
Nate Wood drums

benwendel.com

Edition Records – EDN1162 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: May 2020 (1)

Pale Blue Dot – Johnny Hunter
Mark Hanslip, Gemma Bass, Aby Vulliamy, Mick Bardon, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter
Release date: 14 January 2020 (Northern Contemporary)
johnnyhuntermusic.bandcamp.com

To The Earth – Dinosaur
Laura Jurd, Elliot Galvin, Conor Chaplin, Corrie Dick
Release date: 15 May 2020 (Edition Records)
dinosaurband.bandcamp.com

Discourses – Jon Balke
Jon Balke – solo piano
Release date: 15 May 2020 (ECM Records)
ecmrecords.com/shop

The Rainbow Mountain / Can We Care – Robert Mitchell
Robert Mitchell – solo piano
Release date: 25 April 2020 (Depth of Field)
robertmitchell.bandcamp.com

The Lost Tapes – James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
Rod Mason, Andrew Cox, Simon Kaylor, Ben Mallinder, Emma Frampton, Gareth Smith, Greg Nicholas, Kim Macari, Reuben Fowler, Matt Ball, Stuart Garside, Ellie Smith, Tom I’anson, John Kelly, Jamil Sheriff, Garry Jackson, Dave Walsh
Release date: 23 April 2020 (New Jazz Records)
jameshamiltonjazzorchestra.bandcamp.com

Out of Doors – Bruno Heinen Trio
Bruno Heinen, Andrea Di Biase, Gene Calderazzo
Release date: 22 May 2020
brunoheinen.com

REVIEW: ‘Life is the Dancer’ – Rob Luft

THE CONCEPT that ‘you don’t live your life but life lives you’ (quoted from Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now) is behind Rob Luft’s sophomore album as leader, and aptly describes a characteristically joyful and optimistic approach heralded in 2017’s debut, Riser.

At this relatively early stage of his career, Luft is already forging a style all of his own which certainly amounts to more than his simple ‘guitar’ credit – a many-hued sound world and technique with a distinct, bubbling, aqueous attraction. His prowess as leader, composer and prolific sideman has placed him on the current roster of BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists, and a key role in Big Bad Wolf (a real crowd-puller at Manchester Jazz Festival) produced their feel-good release, Pond Life. More recently, he is prominent in the line-up of trumpeter Byron Wallen’s Portrait recording and has shown a natural affinity for improvising over the jazz and gamelan-inspired auras of multi-instrumentalist Felix Jay’s 3CD album Trio.

For Life is the Dancer – a programme of mostly self-penned material – Luft’s quintet again comprises tenorist Joe Wright, organist/pianist Joe Webb, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick, with Byron Wallen and vocalist Luna Cohen guesting. Heard recently in conversation with Jess Gillam at BBC Radio 3, the guitarist’s warm personality and eclectic musical interests clearly shine through both his playing and interactions with others. Such vibrant, dance-imbued, sun-soaked strains are a welcome tonic in our uncertain times; and he’s unquestionably a groover, as Anders Christensen’s Berlin immediately signals through its pulsating, increasingly rock-driven progression.

It’s easy to fall under the spell of Luft’s writing and his band’s interpretations, the vocal-enhanced title track evoking the balmy, summertime haze of Sergio Mendes and Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays. The album thrives on the rapid, electronic-suggested (though entirely acoustic) rhythms of Corrie Dick and Tom McCredie’s fluent bass – ‘fast city’ fervour in One Day in Romentino is a prime example as Joe Wright’s tenor screeches above Luft’s pointillistic decoration. Co-written with Enzo Zirilli, Synesthesia pulls off audaciously tricky ‘push-pull’ time signatures, enough to raise a smile each time, amidst its rapturous energy; and the countryfied soul-blues of Sad Stars, accentuated by Joe Webb’s Hammond, is beautifully blithesome. Rob Luft’s message that “the past is in your head and the present is in your hands” is captured in the closing, gentle ebb of Expect the Unexpected, elevated by wordless chorus, muted trumpet and the never-failing bliss of those mellifluous guitar improvisations. 

Dance, smile and enjoy, you will.

Life is the Dancer is released on 17 April 2020 and available as CD, vinyl or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Rob Luft guitar
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Joe Webb Hammond organ, piano
Tom McCredie bass
Corrie Dick drums
with
Byron Wallen trumpet
Luna Cohen vocals

robluft.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1152 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: April 2020 (2)

Steal the Light – Let Spin
Moss Freed, Ruth Goller, Finlay Panter, Chris Williams
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Efpi Records)
letspin.bandcamp.com

Life is the Dancer – Rob Luft
Rob Luft, Joe Wright, Joe Webb, Tom McCredie, Corrie Dick with Byron Wallen, Luna Cohen
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Edition Records)
robluft.bandcamp.com

Rickety Racket – Martin Pyne Quartet
Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham, Martin Pyne
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Tall Guy Records)
martinpyne.bandcamp.com

Two Chevrons Apart – Yuri Goloubev
Tim Garland, John Turville, Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis
Release date: 17 April 2020 (Basho Records)
bashorecords.com

Neutral Tones – Beresford Harries
Charlie Beresford, Tim Harries
Release date: 15 April 2020 (The 52nd)
the52nd.bandcamp.com

Trio (3CD) – Felix Jay
Felix Jay, Rob Luft, Byron Wallen, Nicola Alesini, Susan Alcorn, BJ Cole, Jan Steele
Recorded 1999–2019 (Hermetic Recordings)
burningshed.com (TBC) and ebay.co.uk

RECENT LISTENING: March 2020 (2)

While Looking Up – Jimmy Greene
Jimmy Greene, Reuben Rogers, Kendrick Scott, Aaron Goldberg, Stefon Harris, Lage Lund
Release date: 3 April 2020 (Mack Avenue Records)
mackavenue.com / propermusic.com

UP – Pericopes+1
Emiliano Vernici, Alessandro Sgobbio, Nick Wight
Release date: 6 March 2020 (Losen Records)
pericopes.it / losenrecords.no

Planet B – Jasper Høiby
Jasper Høiby, Josh Arcoleo, Marc Michel
Release date: 6 March 2020 (Edition Records)
jasperhoiby.bandcamp.com

Without Deception – Kenny Barron / Dave Holland Trio feat. Johnathan Blake
Kenny Barron, Dave Holland, Johnathan Blake
Release date: 6 March 2020 (Dare2 Records)
dave holland.com / propermusic.com

Live in Newcastle – Article XI
Sam Andreae, Oliver Dover, Simon Prince, Cath Roberts, Graham South, Nick Walters, Kieran McLeod, Tullis Rennie, Seth Bennett, Johnny Hunter, Anton Hunter
Release date: 16 March 2020 (Discus Music)
discusmusic.bandcamp.com

Alive in the Empire (vinyl) – Agile Experiments
John Edwards, Dan Nicholls, George Crowley, Dave De Rose
Release date: 27 March 2020 (Dave De Rose Records)
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RECENT LISTENING: January 2020 (2)

Portrait: Reflections on Belonging – Byron Wallen
Byron Wallen, Rob Luft, Paul Michael, Rod Youngs, Richard ‘Olatunde’ Baker
with Plumcroft Primary School
Release date: 17 February 2020 (Twilight Jaguar Recordings)
byronwallen.co.uk

Black and White, Vol. 1 – Julia Biel
Julia Biel – solo piano
Release date: 28 February 2020 (Rokit Records/Ankhtone Records)
juliabiel.bandcamp.com

Multiverse – Jim Hart & Ivo Neame
Jim Hart, Ivo Neame
Release date: 21 February 2020 (Edition Records)
jimhartivoneame.bandcamp.com

Rainbow Over Kolonaki – Talinka
Tali Atzmon, Gilad Atzmon, Jenny Bliss, Yaron Stavi
with Ross Stanley, Billy Pod
Release date: 25 January 2020 (Fanfare Records / Birnam)
birnamcdshop.com / gilad.online

Broken Circles – Jure Pukl
Jure Pukl, Charles Altura, Joel Ross, Matt Brewer, Kweku Sumbry
Release date: 21 February 2020 (Whirlwind Recordings)
jurepukl.bandcamp.com

Imploding Stars – Hervé Perez
Hervé Perez
Release date: 3 May 2019 (Focused Silence)
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