Mike Holober: Wish List

Wish List is almost too tidy for jazz, yet it works. The program is two standards (“Blackbird” and “Nancy”) plus seven varied, melodically fresh, harmonically sophisticated Mike Holober originals. Each track is meticulously arranged and polished until it sparkles. Solos fill planned spaces within complete, proportional forms.

It works because Holober has taste-as composer, arranger, pianist and especially as bandleader, where he makes impeccable personnel decisions. No current rhythm section in jazz combines power and cunning like John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Tim Ries is one of the subtlest, most elegant of jazz improvisers; when he cuts loose and wails (like on “Conundrum”) it is a special kind of rush. Guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel fits Holober’s band because he is creative and concise.

There is a graceful, airy optimism in Holober’s music, reinforced by the ensemble treble brightness of soprano saxophone/piano/guitar. “Opening Day” is quiet joy, celebrated by Patitucci and Holober in unison and then by a dancing Patitucci solo. “Tulainyo” (for “the highest lake in the continental U.S.”) is also an affirmation, a simple line threaded through the strongest solo statements on the album by Holober, Ries and Muthspiel.

Two additional examples of why this is a quality project are the clear recorded sound by engineer James Farber and the thoughtful liner notes by Steve Armour.