Ben Wolfe is the man responsible for double bass duties for some of the most popular names in jazz. As well as his six previous albums as leader, in a recording career that extends back to the ’80s Wolfe can also be heard on a fist-full of recordings by Harry Connick Jr, Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis among others. What keeps him gainfully employed by some of the jazz world’s biggest hitters? The Whisperer, a superb combination of great tunes and great playing, soon answers that question.
Wolfe’s partners on The Whisperer—pianist Orrin Evans, drummer Donald Edwards and saxophonist Stacy Dillard—might not be as world-renowned as Krall, Marsalis and company, but they’re prodigiously talented. Like Wolfe they all have impeccable taste, never over-playing, always supportive of each other. Evans’ comping is a masterclass in timing and effectiveness, Edwards is equally capable of combining with Wolfe to create and maintain the pulse or to spring from Wolfe’s steady bass rhythm to weave his percussion around the melody.
Wolfe’s talents as a writer are also much in evidence—with the exception of a mournful take on Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are” the tunes are Wolfe’s own. “Hat In Hand” and “Camelot’s Lean,” featuring Dillard on soprano, demonstrate the quartet’s laid-back, controlled, playing. The sound becomes noticeably warmer when Dillard moves to tenor sax on the melancholy “Love Is Near,” Dillard’s silky tone giving the number a softness that contrasts with the cooler soprano.
“Heroist,” anchored by Evans’ emphatic left hand and featuring Dillard’s wildest soprano, “The Balcony”—tenor and piano interweaving melodies built on the pulse of bass and drums—and the moody “Chronos” showcase a more up-tempo side. “The Whisperer” is a mid-tempo swinger—Wolfe and Edwards set up a sense of urgency, Evans’ comping evokes added suspense and Dillard’s tenor completes the noir-ish atmosphere. For drama, it’s the album’s star attraction.