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11/01/11

Warren Wolf
Warren Wolf
Mack Avenue Records

Warren Wolf loves melody, and he likes it spit-and-polish. It’s evident in the song choices for the Baltimorean vibraphonist’s debut. Whether originals or covers, the straight-ahead tunes are all well developed, occasionally even through-composed; no stretched-out blues riffs here. It’s equally evident in his solos, morsels of richness and logic that build upon the last such morsel. Warren Wolf is one stellar document.

It’s glossy, but not toothless. Wolf fronts a hard-driving band, including alto and soprano saxophonist Tim Green, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Gregory Hutchison, none of whom hold anything back. “Eva,” for one, is an adrenaline-packed swinger in which Wolf trades choruses with Green, both hurling out white-hot strains of sound: Green focuses on energy and virtuosity; Wolf piles up figure after tuneful figure, any of which might be the basis for a new composition. Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” isn’t as fiery as “Eva,” but is far more playful than the crooners’ usual takes. Here Wolf is as sensitive as he is inventive, and is rivaled in that pursuit by McBride—the only soloist to capture the tune’s intended sweetness.

Wolf is also a fine composer, whether concocting catchy but unusually shaped pieces like “Sweet Bread” or building the gloriously anguished “Katrina” on the template of John Lewis’ “Django.” The album’s only flaw is too-smooth production (by McBride), but even that does well for “Señor Mouse,” Wolf’s solo centerpiece. As debuts go, this one is tough to beat.

Originally published in October 2011
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