Warren Wolf ‘Convergence’ (Mack Avenue) 4/5

warren-wolfA new name to this writer, vibraphonist Warren Wolf is a major new talent on the block, and one who does not feel out of place with a distinguished array of musical collaborators here. It is a very pleasant surprise to hear Brad Mehldau in a supportive role, with co-producer Christian McBride on bass and Jeff Tain Watts on drums, with the non-negligeable addition of John Scofield on guitar providing a new dimension to the more usual quartet setting for vibes. In some ways this recording is a changing of the guard with the sad passing this year of vibraphone legend Bobby Hutcherson, and thus it is fitting that Wolf should pay homage to the elder vibist on, ‘Montara’, a relaxed Latin-inflected piece that Hutcherson penned and recorded for Blue Note back in the mid-1970s. Wolf offers up a brooding reading of the composition, retaining the wonderful floating feel of the original, yet creating something of an echoey groove this time round, and Mehldau this is greatly aided by the contribution of Mehldau.
The young leader excels on the more reflective pieces and one such example is the mid-tempo introspection of, ‘Four stars from heaven’, that features fine piano work from Mehldau. In a slightly more left-field vein, ‘Tergiversation’, is a vehicle for bassist McBride to shine, though once again exquisite phrasing from Wolf is a dominant feature. Wolf displays his greater awareness of the musical tradition with a fine cover of Stevie Wonder’s, ‘Knocks me off my feet’, where the leader reveals an ability to perform on piano also and this is performed as a tender ballad, enthusing the piano with gospel-infused hues. Opening up the album in a deeply uplifting groove is, ‘Soul sister’, where guitar and vibes work tirelessly in tandem. As a whole, the album works as a cohesive whole, brimming with musicality, and ends up striking a contemplative chord on the medley of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust’ which fuses effortlessly into Chopin’s, ‘The minute waltz’. A fine debut, then, on Mack Avenue from a name we are likely to be hearing a good deal more of in the future.

Tim Stenhouse