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Mike Wofford: Synergy

The catalogue of the HeavyWood label, operated by trumpeter Dick Titterington and pianist Randy Porter, consists of these two CDs. Both contain music of substance and quality by players functioning in voluntary or involuntary semi-obscurity.

Pianist Mike Wofford’s album is the most complete look so far at a protean player who has had a small, enthusiastic following for more than 30 years. Here’s what I wrote in a 1967 review of his first album, Strawberry Wine (Epic BN 26225): “[This is] an excellent piano player who is much under the spell of Bill Evans.There are some tracks on which Wofford’s individuality shows. His approach includes humor, a quality many musicians his age have avoided like the plague.” That was then. Now Wofford’s individuality shows on every track of Synergy. He has long since melded Evans into a style notable for daring, thoroughgoing musicianship and, yes, humor. This CD provides generous exposure to a musician who makes equal use of brain, heart and muscle. What he still has in common with Evans is a concept of the trio as an interdependent unit. Joe LaBarbera, Evans’ last drummer, naturally supports that idea and interacts superbly with Wofford and bassist Rob Thorsen. Listeners who accept Wofford’s challenges can expect rewards, whether in “My Old Flame,” a familiar jazz standard like Gerald Wiggins’ “Sonar,” Ellington’s “Great Times” or Wofford’s own intricate compositions. This album is highly recommended.

Titterington’s sidemen are Porter, guitarist Dan Faehnle, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Alan Jones, all famous in Pacific Northwest jazz circles and getting better known down the Coast. Jones has gained recognition as a member of the idiosyncratic group called the Fensters, whose records have a small following in the U.S. and a bigger one in Europe. He is remarkable for his swing, polyrhythms and independence of limbs. Faehnle is simply one of the best guitarists at work today, admired by a wide range of veteran players. Porter has become a favorite accompanist and soloist in clubs and at festivals in the West. Wiitala is a sturdy and dependable bassist. The scope of Titterington’s playing is impressive in gentle pieces like his original bossa nova “Amber Eyes” and his sprightly “Tinker Toy,” and in the jazz and popular standards that make up half of the album. He manages a soaring solo on Lee Morgan’s “The Procrastinator” without succumbing to imitation. The playing by all hands is first rate in Amber Eyes and Faehnle’s is frequently stunning. The CD deserves wide distribution, but tiny labels tend not to get it.

Originally Published