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Ben Wolfe: From Here I See

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If you were to initially mistake From Here I See for a leaderless small-combo session with strings, chances are Ben Wolfe would be pleased. The bassist-composer isn’t merely in self-effacing form on this outing-he puts into play a group of top-flight musicians who adroitly and discreetly follow suit. As Branford Marsalis comments in his accompanying liner notes, “… there is no overplaying … no massive technical displays of prowess or excessively long solos on the entire recording. The single focus seems to be on serving the melody.”

Yes, the melodies-that’s where the album’s chief allure resides. Though Wolfe solos sparingly, his imprint here is evident throughout the album’s dozen selections-tunes that may or may not have been written with precisely this lineup in mind. It’s hard to imagine, however, Wolfe wishing for a more striking take on his gorgeous ballad “Angela,” a melody softly illuminated and embellished by guitarist Russell Malone, or a more appealing performance of the waltzing “Who’s Lily?,” a splendid showcase for Malone, pianist Orrin Evans and its composer.

Likewise, Wolfe takes full advantage of the remaining talent gathered, providing trumpeter Wynton Marsalis with more than ample inspiration on two cuts, the highlight being the lyrical gem “So Lovely.” The Baltimore-bred bassist also neatly accommodates his reedmen-JD Allen and, on two particularly enjoyable tracks, Marcus Strickland. Drummer Donald Edwards, dependable as ever, rounds out the rhythm section. As for the string quartet, it’s far from intrusive, often helping reveal the melodic charms inherent in Wolfe’s writing.

Originally Published