Turn Signal-- Mike Wofford/Holly Hofmann Quintet

Pianist Mike Wofford and flutist Holly Hofmann have had a musical relationship dating back at least as far as Hofmann's debut recording, Take Note!, released in 1989. Husband and wife for the past 11 years, the duo's new invigorating co-led collaboration, Turn Signal, adds the masterful trumpeter Terell Stafford, who is fresh off his own This Side of Strayhorn, which was one of the best jazz CDs of 2011. This results in an unusual, but highly effective front line of flute and trumpet. Bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Richard Sellers complete this airtight, engaging quintet.

The long lines of "The Dipper," Wofford's tribute to Horace Silver, perfectly suit the soothing blend of flute and trumpet. Hofmann's solo displays fresh phrasing along with her trademark rich tone. Stafford's trumpet solo has the same strengths--his clarion sound and fertile ideas. The pianist's improv is soon bolstered by Hofmann and Stafford's complementary harmonizing. Vince Mendoza's Latin "Esperança" possesses a subtle, beguiling beauty that is enriched by Hofmann and Stafford's resonant, sensitive voicings. Wofford's enticingly melodic solo throws in an apt Monk quote. Hofmann and Stafford's contrapuntal interlude over the pianist's vamp raises the temperature a bit before Hofmann switches to piccolo for the more light-hearted close.

"Karita" is a typically buoyant, uplifting Bobby Watson theme. Stafford's solo is both brassy and nimble. Once again, Hofmann's lustrous sound is the finishing touch for the creative development of her improvisation, and her flawless technique is also fully evident here. Wofford's lyricism (no wonder both Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald chose him as their accompanist), and Thorsen and Sellers' impressive solo spots round out this prime track. Jimmy Forrest's blues, "Soul Street," opens with Wofford's meditative and soulful solo, setting the stage for equally emotive variations by a less restrained Stafford and a silkily sly, probing Hofmann. A swaying unison ensemble passage (written by Wofford) is a pleasant surprise, and is followed by Sellers' compelling turn on drums before the theme's reprise. Sellers is a rock-solid, perceptively reactive performer throughout this session.

The Newley/Bricusse tune "Pure Imagination" opens with Hofmann's resolute alto flute musings after only a brief flirtation with the actual theme by her and Stafford. Wofford answers with his own deep mining of the composition's essence. After a concise and authoritative flight through the changes by Stafford with the pianist's strong support, Hofmann returns at a brisk pace before settling in for a more deliberate revisit of the melody. The trumpeter then enters at full throttle, exhibiting his major talent for all to hear until, alas, a fade-out ending. This is an unpredictable, highly polished arrangement by Wofford. "The Girl From Greenland" was composed by the promising bop pianist Dick Twardzik, who died tragically at the age of 24, and was an early influence on Wofford. This is a piano trio treatment of the infectious tune, which is reminiscent of Herbie Nichols' unique writing style. Wofford's eminently boppish, ever-expanding lengthy solo does it great justice. Thorsen's bass solo and Sellers' trades with Wofford further reveal their outstanding individual capabilities.

Hofmann's closing up-tempo "M-Line" takes no prisoners, as the flutist soars through a quick-fingered, winding improvisation, only to be succeeded by Stafford's similarly aggressive, driving statement. The rhythm section spurs them on, with Sellers especially inspiring. Wofford's unfettered piano leads back to the memorable theme. All in all, this CD captures four West Coasters and New York-based Stafford at the height of their powers.

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Scott Albin