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03/10/10

Teddy Charles & Walter Wolff Trio
Live

Along with Dances With Bulls, Live marks the first time the seminal vibraphonist Teddy Charles has recorded as a leader since 1988, and only the second time since 1963. Mostly retired for the past 46 years, Charles occasionally resurfaces to record or gig. This document catches him in performance at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, collaborating with Finnish pianist Walter Wolff and his trio (Italian Francesco Angiuli on double bass and Dane Andreas Fryland on drums).

Despite being unheralded outside of hardcore jazzbo circles, the 81-year-old Charles played a pivotal role in the development of jazz vibraphone, exploring everything from big-band swing and hard bop to Third Stream and avant-improv, lending his melodic sensibilities—and skills as arranger and composer—to recordings with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Wardell Gray and Bob Brookmeyer. Though never a groundbreaking player like Bobby Hutcherson, Charles’ style is characterized by sturdy, traditional melodicism and an innate sense of accommodation. Live displays the vibraphonist’s talents as a lead voice, while also allowing Wolff ample room to stretch out.

The song selection is varied yet focused, encompassing most post-modern jazz styles from the mid-’50s through the mid-’60s, from the trad songbook of Porter and Kern (“What Is This Thing Called Love?” and “All the Things You Are”) to bop classics like “A Night in Tunisia” and “Nostalgia for Mingus.” Charles and Wolff weigh in with their own originals, “Dances With Bulls” and “Archipelago,” arguably two of the set’s high points with their impressionistic probing and limber solos.

Throughout, Charles manipulates his instrument’s sustain with astonishing control, and both his and Wolff’s solos are never less than sharply lyrical, exemplified by their duo exchange on “What’s New.” Though a serviceable rhythm section, Angiuli and Fryland fail to excite, content instead to lay down a non-intrusive foundation. The spotlight clearly shines on the two leads, placing both an old pro and a vital newcomer in the spotlight.

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