Ben Wolfe is a bassist who some of the biggest stars in jazz call upon. Star vocalists Harry Connick, Jr., Dianne Reeves and Diana Krall have worked extensively with him, and he’s also performed and recorded with Wynton & Branford Marsalis, Joe Henderson, Billy Higgins and Doc Cheatham.
Since 1997 Wolfe has made a number of records of his own, where as a leader he has uses those occasions to present his own compositions, sophisticated numbers in the mainstream jazz realm. His eighth one, The Whisperer, (out on February 17, 2015) marks his first one for Posi-Tone Records, and it’s a perfect match of artist and label.
That’s because Ben Wolfe leads sessions with top-flight personnel such as JD Allen, Marcus Strickland, and Jeff “Tain” Watts and executes with precision, grace and looseness, all Posi-Tone hallmarks. For The Whisperer, he carries over a couple of aces in pianist Orrin Evans and drummer Don Edwards from the prior 2013 offering From Here I See. The quartet is rounded out by Stacy Dillard on saxophones.
A bluesy mood permeates these performances and on a lot of them, the swing is supple and strong. That’s certainly the case for “Heroist,” where Evans delivers a taut solo and Edwards’ rhythms are deceptively complex, as Wolfe leads the rollicking head. He begins “S.T.F.U.” with a bass spotlight recalling Paul Chambers and then firmly anchors this post-bop tune that includes guest trumpet player Josh Evans playing with cool confidence as Orrin Evans sits this one out.
Dillard, though, gets the most opportunities to star on this record and makes the most of it. On the ballad “Love Is Near,” his large, sultry tenor is a welcome throwback to the Coleman Hawkins school of moody saxophone. On the waltzing “Community,” he blows a soprano sax with a spring in his step, injecting cheerfulness into the song. He brings out the melancholy qualities of the horn on the slow numbers “Camelot’s Lean” and “If Only,” and is wistful on the soprano on Ben Wolfe’s lone cover selection “All The Things You Are,” which is transformed simply by being slowed down.
“Chronos” stands out for its irresistibly funky gait that’s made possible by the syncopated simpatico between Wolfe and Edwards. More great interplay is found on “The Balcony” where Evans and Dillard (on tenor sax) come in together after Wolfe’s walking bass intro and solo on parallel planes.
Ben Wolfe’s Posi-Tone label debut The Whisperer is quality straight-ahead jazz because Wolfe and his crew do everything the right way. It’s little wonder why he’s a trusted collaborator and sideman for some of jazz’s biggest names.