“Some cats swing and some cats groove” – those are the words by Marcellus “Bassman” Shepard on vibraphonist Warren Wolf‘s new album on Mack Avenue, “Reincarnation”. The wonderful warm Rhodes sounds of Brett Williams on the “Smooth Intro” and “Smooth Outro” pieces are honey for the soul. It’s pretty obvious that Warren and his cohorts are masters of swing and groove, as witnessed on “For Ma” which grooves and swings like hell with the help of bassist Richie Goods and drummer Carroll Dashiell III and Brett playing acoustic piano.
Even though Warren focuses more on the soul side of his artistry in contrast to his more modern jazz-inflected predecessors like “Convergence“, there is still enough material here for the straight ahead aficionados, like the immensely intense “Vahybing” with some of his most amazing solo work to date and again, formidable work by drummer Dashiell III. And it’s this decision to mix those genres which makes this album so highly entertaining. For me, the Rhodes and vocal tracks work best, not only because they show the very attractive soul side of Warren’s playing style, but also because of his work as a composer. Check out the sweltering bluesy ballad “In The Heat Of The Night”, graced by the vocals of Imani-Grace Cooper and featuring the always enjoyable work of guitarist Mark Whitfield. The Rhodes accents here are sparse, but very effective. Even this slow slow slow piece comes along as a captivating jam.
There are some bittersweet moments halfway through “The Struggle”, the album’s longest piece, when Brett plays some elegant and melancholic chords on the piano and the backing by Imani, even though subtly moved into the shadows of the track, adds some placid aspects before the track moves back into its urgent and forward-thinking drive. The only cover version is “For The Love Of You”, the timeless Isley Brothers gem from 1975. Imani works wonders here and there’s Mark again adding some spice and grit and the Rhodes/vibes combination is magic. The arrangement towards the end of the cut with its fusion-type renderings and powerful drum playing is special, too.
The sweetness is back for “Sebastian And Zoe” featuring the angelic voice of Imani again and on “Livin’ The Good Life”, another one of the soulful pieces sans Rhodes, she delivers a performance that is capturing both her soulful side and her jazz chops. Warren’s playing is so diverse and satisfying throughout the entire set and shines brightest with his transparent approach on a charming duet with Brett on “Come And Dance With Me”.
The record release show for “Reincarnation” will be at New York’s Jazz Standard, April 16th-20th.