There are a lot of things to like on bassist and composer Ben Wolfe‘s new album “Unjust”, out tomorrow. The freshness of putting together a dozen original tunes. A cast which showcases a brilliant way of interplay and resilience. There is no “look at all the things I can do” attitude among the players. You don’t necessarily need tons of solos even though you’re the leader (there is only one real bass solo here). But the bass of course is present throughout. Walking through the swinging “Hats Off To Rebay”, accompanying an equally grooving Joel Ross on vibes and Immanuel Wilkins on sax. Both Wilkins and Nicole Glover, two of the hottest saxophonists around at the moment, are featured with momentous parts here. I also really dig the interplay between bass and vibes on this particular track and the sudden stop.
Ben has recorded with Harry Connick, Jr., Eric Reed, Mary Stallings, Carl Allen, Benny Green, Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, Ann Hampton Callaway, and Michael Bublé, among many others and I particularly remember two great albums he recorded under his own name for the now defunct MaxJazz label: “No Stranger Here” (2008) and “From Here I See” (2013).
Nicholas Payton is part of the ensemble too and he really proves why he is one of the best trumpeters currently working. Listen to his spirited and loose playing on the album opener “The Heckler” for example. His rich and all-encompassing work enhances the virtuosic compositions. Nicole Glover’s serene playing can be cherished on the beautiful ballad “Lullaby In D”. American drummer, bandleader and DJ Bob French, who passed away in 2014, is celebrated on “Bob French”, which also features Orrin Evans with his deeply enchanting and satisfying moves. In tandem with Nicholas, it sounds like Donald Byrd and Duke Pearson revived. I’m still a big fan of the last Blue Note album “The Parable Of The Poet” by vibraphonist Joel Ross and here, with just bass and drums, he excels on “The Corridor”, playing shadowy as well as soulful and giving the piece a somewhat eerie feel.
There is so much to explore here. Drummer Aaron Kimmel seems to come out of nowhere on “Mask Man” and the title track; pianist Addison Frei is thoughtful and poignant on “Eventually”. A conversational style graces the swinging “Sideways” and “Sparkling Red”, my favorite piece on the album, oozes elegance and poise.
Ben Wolfe plays Birdland this weekend, Friday to Sunday, with Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Grant Stewart on tenor sax, and Kendrick Scott on drums on Friday and Saturday, with Aaron Kimmel on Sunday.