For years, I have known a certain truth– don’t sleep on Warren Wolf. the master vibraphonist has snuck up on me one too many times on releases of his own. He rolled through San Antonio three times in 2015 and never failed to impress. His work with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s large ensemble is a surprise and not a surprise at the same time. He has maintained a beautiful melodicism in his playing that would seem obvious for his instrument but he surpasses such expectations again and again. He’s an unmistakable talent. He shouldn’t be slept on. This is no more apparent than in his latest album, Convergence on Mack Avenue.
It’s 1:55 into “Cell Phone” when Wolf literally quotes the classic Nokia ringtone where one realizes how much one shouldn’t sleep on this kind of wit, cleverness, and sense of connection that his style of play just oozes. Of course, one could say the same thing about his take on Bobby Hutcherson’s “Montara”, just a sweet as the original and just as inspired in its simple trio format. One could also know this for sure by album closer, a sweet, solo of the standard “Stardust” as he transitions it to Chopin’s “The Minute Waltz’, a song so clever it’s impossible not to stay woke.
Surely this band isn’t sleeping on him– Christian McBride on bass, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, with Brad Mehldau playing piano throughout half the album and John Scofield playing guitar on a couple of tracks. It’s a band with complimentary chops– McBride showing bounce and spring, Watts with a snap that always makes its presence felt. As a core trio, these men are quite effective and emotive, able to bring Wolf’s soulful sound to its rightful stage. He can be sweet and he can be sharp and McBride and Watts are there for every move. However, it’s the flourishes only Mehldau can provide where this album really sings, particularly when Wolf and Mehldau are playing off one another. Mehldau has always had sprightly moments, particularly when he’s collaborating outside his usual circles. This is one of high points of his occasional canoodling.
Warren Wolf as a vibraphonist always seems to add perfect shades to whatever group he’s in which makes his solo endeavors all the more endearing and revealing. In Convergence, what Wolf reveals with interplay like this and song selections like these is the ever-impressive talent of one of the finest vibraphonist of our time. Don’t sleep on that.
Convergence, the third album from vibraphonist Warren Wolf, is out June 10th on Mack Avenue Records.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.