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Jazz Pianist Michael Wolff California Performances


Michael Wolff CD

Michael Wollf CD release, 'Joe's Strut' honors the late Joe Zawinul (Weather Report), and launches The Michael Wolff Trio California Concert Tour


For those living on a nutrition-starved diet of smooth jazz radio play, pianist Michael Wolff recently went into the studio to compose new tunes, and delivered a feast of of classic sounds to sustain jazz lovers for years to come. Honoring his friend, the late Joe Zawinul (who founded Weather Report,) Wolff's title tune, Joe's Strut, is a tribute that surely has Joe smiling from above.


And for many like myself who are in a time warp and feeling "Kind of Blue" that not much new has come along to match the creative genius of Miles Dave, Modern Jazz Quartet and Weather Report, Wolff's latest release offers a rare opportunity to experience music that sounds oh-so familiar, yet fresh, and turned on. Shake off those blues. Wolff's tribute compositions (including five new songs written by the artist) provide your best chance to rekindle the memory of jazz greats you loved, while introducing friends to the true spirit of that music in new works.


Wolff, who's written and performed with an all star cast of composers and musicians, delivers his most accomplished, nuanced and forthright jazz album to date, with the February 10, 2009 release of 'Joe's Strut' on Wrong Records. The CD offers straight-ahead, original, instrumental jazz. It's Wolff's biggest and best effort since his 'Dangerous Vision', an acclaimed 2004 production.

On 'Joe's Strut,' Wolff's rich history of collaboration with such venerable artists as Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Cal Tjader, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Christian McBride (and many others) embraces a new face, as Special Guest saxophonist Steve Wilson is invited into the studio for some brilliant horn contributions. The CD also features Wolff's regular trio: Rich Goods and Chip Jackson (both of whom share the bass chair,) and drummer Victor Jones. Ian Young also makes an appearance as Special Guest on tenor sax.

This is a subtle, mature record, which features five original tracks by Wolff, out of seven overall. "We went down into the cave of jazz and improvisation," comments Wolff, and the results are evident in the soulful songs. Of the infectious, uptempo title track, Wolff says, "This song was written for the memory of the great composer and keyboardist Joe Zawinul, who was a friend of mind since I joined Cannonball Adderley's band in 1975….He formed the groundbreaking WEATHER REPORT, and changed jazz forever, along with Miles and a few others who were experimenting with mixing rock and world music into jazz."

Michael Wolff has garnered raves for his recent releases. JAZZIZ MAGAZINE has praised him as "a musical chameleon"; ALL ABOUT JAZZ raved: "Wolff has some of the most expansive vision of anyone working in jazz today"; THE VILLAGE VOICE described his recent instrumental album as "a strong reminder of just how playful a jazz trio can be..."; DOWNBEAT said: "Wolff and his colleagues play with a breezy synchronicity," and JAZZTIMES noted "The band's goal was to have fun -- All of us do."

Wolff's Irresistible Title Track Written in Memory of Composer and Keyboardist Joe Zawinul

'Joe's Strut' Song Notes, written by Michael Wolff:

This is a song I wrote while walking on the beach in the Bahamas a year ago. I was thinking about performing at the Village Vanguard, and what I'd like to play there.
I originally wrote this for quartet: piano, bass, drums, and alto sax. When I got more into the orchestration of this new album, I decided to use alto and tenor saxophones (similar to trumpet and tenor sax, but a little different in color.) I was thinking of the combination of Wayne Shorter and James Spalding that I had heard years ago. There is a clean and soulful sound of alto and tenor sax together, particularly in unison or octaves. And how can you go wrong with Steve Wilson on alto? He's absolutely amazing, such a rich, round tone combined with his soulful feel and melodic creativity. The young tenor saxophonist Ian Young adds his own color to the mix, and plays a very thoughtful solo in the midst of this swing. The whole rhythm section shifted gears for his solo, which adds such a nice section to the whole piece. Harbour Island is a straight-ahead tune with a little tag at the end of the first melody section. The tag is based on a melodic idea I like, moving triads up and down in second inversion. This is a sound I like to improvise with. The feel of the song is open, like the Island that it's named after.

This song was written for the memory of the great composer and keyboardist Joe Zawinul, who was a friend of mind since I joined Cannonball Adderley's band in 1975. Joe was a soulful Austrian guy who came to the U.S. to study at Berklee School of Music. He played with Maynard Ferguson, Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley, and Miles Davis. He formed the groundbreaking WEATHER REPORT, and changed jazz forever, along with Miles and a few others who were experimenting with mixing rock and world music into jazz. Victor Jones plays a real Boogaloo beat on the drums, and Richie Goods lays down a bass line you'd play with a New Orleans feel. I'm originally from New Orleans, so I'm happy to have some of that piano style in here. Joe was a strong guy with a twinkle in his eye, and a really peppy walk when you'd see him on the street. He was always very nice to me, and was a hero of mine. I don't think Joe's Strut is exactly a piece Joe would have played later on, but I like the feeling of the song and the way it's performed. When I hear it, I can imagine Joe walking down 12th Street in Manhattan, looking very happy after a big lunch and schnapps.

I wanted to write something to feature Steve Wilson on soprano with me on the piano.
All my life, I have played duets. It started with the great Alex Foster on alto and soprano saxophones. When I was with Cannonball Adderley's band we played duets every night. We recorded one, STARS FELL ON ALABAMA on the last album he recorded, PHOENIX. Actually, Airto played a little percussion on it, so it was technically a trio. But live we did duos of standards. Then in all my bands with Alex Foster, including Impure Thoughts, we played duets together. We even recorded a whole duet album together. So duets are very important to me. Of course, Wheel of Life also includes bass and drums after the intro, but the focus is the interplay and music partnership of the soprano sax and the piano. I love the feel of this piece. When I wrote it I sat down at the piano and just let the feeling guide me to the sounds-the colors of the chords and the melody, through composed first section, and a textural second section with the colors of the chords written but the melodies left to improvisation. Of course, some of the feeling to me is a descendant of BLUE IN GREEN on the Kind of Blue album by Miles Davis. Blue in Green was actually written by pianist Bill Evans, a Ravel afficionado. The second section of WHEEL OF LIFE is harmonically infused with the French Impressionist composers' palates. I can't say enough about the beauty of Steve Wilson's sound on the soprano saxophone. It transcends the saxohone family and wends it way past woodwinds into some other tambres. And his soulfulness, combined with precision, bring out all the feeling I could have ever imagined on this piece.

I was inspired to play, and then record, If I Were A Bell after opening for Count Basie's band with my trio in Cleveland at a great jazz club called Nighttown. We played there in the Fall of 2007, and I was so happy to be on the same bill as the great Basie band. There are a few original members of the band, at least that were with the band in the 60s, and it swings as hard as ever. When I was Musical Director with Nancy Wilson in the early 80's we often played with the great big bands of the day, including Basie, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman and Mercer Ellington. Our rhythm section would play with their horns, and Nancy would sing with them. Basie's band was always my favorite…the hardest swinging band out there. When I was a teenager, I went and heard the Basie band when Thad Jones was playing in and writing for the band. Man, that was the most swinging music I ever heard. And I loved the way Count Basie played the piano. I was lucky enough to play piano with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra in the mid 70's, so that sound and feel really lodged itself in my ear. Thad demonstrated how you could swing super hard and have the most advanced exciting creative open nebulous chords and melodies. I was so lucky that when playing in the Hague in the early 80's, Basie heard a complete set that I played with Nancy Wilson and the trio, and he complimented me on my bluesy piano playing. That's a memory that will stay with me all of my life. When one of your idols gives you a compliment, there's nothing like it. Anyway, back to If I Were A Bell. The hits I do after the first melodic chorus were inspired by the way the band started their second set, just swinging for a long time with the rhythm section, then coming in with some ferocious hits with the whole band screaming some staccato double forte hits. Man, that wakes up the crowd. I have also been listening to Wynton Kelly and Red Garland and George Shearing a lot in the last year or so. I've been listening to the way they each touch the piano so beautifully. Their technique informs the choice of notes and chords, and I have been inspired towards that melodic, swinging approach lately. I really love to just swing hard and have fun. That's what this song was about. A swinging trio in the tradition of those guys and Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson, etc Just hitting it and grooving and having a happy time in a club late at night. I can imagine that Nighttown gig in Cleveland every time I hear this cut. Plus, when I was a kid my dad took me to see Guys and Dolls, and I always loved the songs from that musical. On this recording Victor plays a really great, original drum solo, and Richie Goods' bass solo is so deep and rich and full it makes me smile...

I wrote this song when I was on that same trip to Harbour Island in the Bahamas.
I had my laptop computer and small keyboard with me, and I put on earphones and came up with this song. It feels to me like something one would write for a French movie…textured and atmospheric. It's very open, and I love the way Victor Jones played drums on it, with a hint of the time and lots of color in his playing. Of course Chip Jackson lays down a beautiful bass part. The piano solo is meant almost as a counter melody to the actual melody that the horns play. I love the way the horns are not exactly in lock step. There's a looseness in the melody, and it gives more texture and depth to the song.

This was a piece I wrote in a haze one day, and then left for a year or so. When putting together this album, I literally found it on top of my piano, and when I played through it I realized it would be fun to play and solo on. I was thinking of one of my oldest friends, Bob Rosen, a saxophonist and well-known music educator in NYC, who I've been friends with since the early 70's. He loves these kinds of tunes, the harmonies, the waltz feel. So I think when I wrote it I imagined something he might like to hear, and then filtered it through my point of view. It's a swinging waltz that allows the time to swirl, and I think is a good setting for the alto and tenor saxophones on the melody, with the bridge breaking into thirds in a very classic trumpet and tenor sax harmonica style, though realized on two saxes. It was truly fun to play on this song. There was no thought involved, just tactile playing, which is when it seems to turn out the best for me. That's the FREEDOM aspect. As usual, Steve Wilson burns the alto solo, and the rhythm section is fiery underneath. When Ian Young enters with his tenor sound and feel, the rhythm section adjusts to his introspective approach, and lends a refreshing palate cleanser to the straight ahead groove. He plays really creatively and searchingly on his solo, finding his own way through the chords to create unique melodies. Chip Jackson plays a virtuosic bass solo that rivals any horn solo on any record. When accompanying, Chip lays down the bass so that the band is connected to the center of the earth, and when he solos he flies off as far as one can fly into the stratosphere. Victor Jones plays some swinging, original sounds on his solo that opens things up and sets up the free interpretation of the melody on the recapitulation. I had so much fun on this one just teeing of with these great players. I felt like we went down into the cave of jazz and improvisation.

I love this song. I was trying to stretch out the feel and time and just let the song exist in space, while still having a pulse throughout to drive it. Playing a ballad like this requires a lot of patience. I don't think I could have played this way when I was 20. I just got out of the way and let the song play me. It's such a beautiful song. The intro came about while sitting at the piano one day and trying to break the song down to its most deconstructed bones. I also tried to eliminate some of the chord changes in the arrangement to open up the whole feel. There is a lot of room for Richie Goods on bass to breathe, and Victor's drumming is a lesson on listening and reacting.

Hear a preview sampling of the album: http://www.SethCohenPR.com/player/michaelwolff/.
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