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Ben Wendel: What We Bring

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Ben Wendel

Ben Wendel’s mother sang opera professionally for nearly 25 years. The saxophonist has toured with Snoop Dogg, is a huge fan of electronica and is best known for his membership in Kneebody, an eclectic quintet that grooves forth with its own slanted and enchanted flavor of jazz-rock. So when Wendel explains that the title of What We Bring “refers to the experience, inspiration and shared wisdom that musicians collect and absorb throughout their lives,” it feels like code for “anything goes.”

The curveball is that What We Bring may be the most accessible record Wendel has ever made for straight-ahead jazz buffs. In Gerald Clayton (piano), Joe Sanders (bass) and Henry Cole (drums), he has recruited seasoned and resourceful stylists accustomed to enabling the postbop projects of headstrong leaders. They fulfill his desire to create an emotional kinship with melodic songs he cherishes. “Amian” doesn’t cover, or even interpolate, Coltrane’s “Naima,” but contains the ingredients to vividly evoke its warm, spacious calm, just as “Song Song” is inspired by and captures the hypnotic grace of Ahmad Jamal’s “Poinciana.” By contrast, an actual cover of “Solar” puts forth a brighter flare than Miles Davis’ indelible original, with Wendel’s antsy tenor replacing Miles’ muted trumpet.

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