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Ben Wolfe Unjust (Resident Arts)

Ben Wolfe's pianoless quartet slashes and speeds with joyful abandon.

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Cover of Unjust

“Unjust,” the title track from bassist Ben Wolfe’s latest project as a leader, the follow-up to his lauded Fatherhood album, hints at sonic pleasures found throughout the set, one of several recorded during three two-day studio sessions in 2021. The bouncy melody, pointing at Monk and voiced with unison and harmony lines by trumpeter Nicholas Payton and tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover, rides atop the heartbeat pulse provided by Wolfe and drummer Aaron Kimmel. The pianoless quartet opens up for some of the disc’s most inspired soloing: Glover, hinting at the theme, applies her burr-edged, brawny tone to dexterous twists and turns, Payton slashes and speeds with joyful abandon, and the rhythm-section players get in some engaging licks before it’s all over. 

There are other soundscapes here, too, including the lush ballad “Sparkling Red,” toplined by the buoyant combo of alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and vibraphonist Joel Ross. The pair are at the heart of the matter, too, on hard-charging opener “The Heckler,” featuring sprinting turns by Payton and Wilkins, the zigzagging “Hats Off to Rebay” and the bop-headed “Sideways,” among other tunes. 

For “Lullaby in D,” a beautiful ballad with Orrin Evans joining on piano, Glover is again out front, out front with a sound sometimes reminiscent of tenor titans of yore. “The Corridor,” with vibes leading bass and drums, benefits from a retro-modern feel and sterling improvisations by Ross and Wolfe. Unjust concludes on a decidedly mellow note on “Reprise (Credits),” with Ross, pianist Addison Frei, and the rhythm axis nodding in the direction of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Here’s to a sequel. 

Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. Sharkskin, the second album from his long-running band, Acme Jazz Garage, has aired on radio stations across the U.S.