Strings are the connectors on bassist Ben Wolfe’s Fatherhood. Not heartstrings, mind, but violins, viola, and cello. Wolfe’s father Dan was a violinist, and the bassist credits his dad with having introduced him to jazz. Thus Wolfe’s use of a string quartet on here has sentimental, not just instrumental, import.
What Wolfe does with those strings isn’t sweetening. Rather than use them simply to plump up the arrangements, the writing here treats the quartet as an additional voice—sometimes supportive but at times oppositional. Take “Blind Seven,” which opens the album. The last time Wolfe recorded the tune, on 2007’s 13 Sketches, it was a straight-ahead bopper. This time, though, that aspect of the tune gets disrupted, first by the oblique harmonic approach taken by the soloists, vibraphonist Joel Ross and alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, and then by the strings, which break the groove with a grumpy, minor-key fugue that plods along at half tempo. It follows the same changes, but into an utterly different universe, making the tune feel like a conversation between two people who inhabit the same space but don’t hear each other.