What’s astounding on Warren Wolf’s new album isn’t just the star power. There’s plenty of that. Bassist/producer Christian McBride, guitarist John Scofield, pianist Brad Mehldau, and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts are all over Wolf’s June 10, 2016, Mack Avenue Record, Convergence.
It’s also the seamless quality and the lux resonance of this vibist’s tracks that put him in a class by himself, in a limited field only a handful have transformed. His third Mack Avenue record, Convergence is blessed with musicality in a modern jazz make-up. Everyone makes sure to keep it cool, light, and radiant, from one train of thought to another.
Wolf is in good hands with McBride as producer. The two have played together on the multi-Grammy-winning bassist’s Inside Straight quintet since 2007. “It was a particular pleasure to bring Warren together with John Scofield and Brad Mehldau — two musicians he’d never worked with before,” McBride explained in a recent DL Media press release. “Warren’s A-level musicianship clearly moves him into an echelon that musicians like Sco and Brad represent. I think the results were inspirational for all of the musicians involved.”
“New Beginning,” the first of three early cuts off the record, shimmers with a starry, seamless quality as Wolf vibes in and then out into Mehldau’s piano measures, all without skipping a beat. They meld the vibe into piano as almost one special instrument, all while deepening the textures.
The coolest aspect of Wolf’s playing is his diverse touch, able to turn the funk in any soul-jazz classic or post-bop number, without calling too much attention to the stereotypical Lawrence Welk imagery of the percussive jazz instrument itself. He has this magical ability to smooth out the edges, transforming the old-fashioned, vaudevillian museum piece into this fantastic, far-out futuristic invention.
Convergence features six original compositions showcasing Wolf’s magnetic style, and five favorite covers, including an uplifting version of Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet.”
“What we wanted to do on this record is mix it up and not just have the whole band on every single track,” Wolf described in the press release. The soulfully bluesy songs are strong in melody and come in various forms from solo to quintet, taking advantage of the variety of skills inherent in these experienced musicians.
“I like to show that there’s always another side of Warren Wolf. I’m not just Warren Wolf the jazz musician who went to the Berklee College of Music and studied be bop, I’m Warren Wolf the musician who actually knows a lot of music from be bop to pop music, Motown, fusion, and classical,” Wolf continued.
Convergence is a superb follow-up to his 2013 sophomore record, Wolfgang.