Friday, October 14, 2011

Warren Wolf: Warren Wolf

Mack Avenue Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Warren Wolf

Warren Wolf is a young artist who plays vibraphone, marimba, piano and drums; he was born and raised in Baltimore, and graduated from the Berklee College of Music. Thanks to a musical father, he began at an early age: drums at age 3, piano and vibes just a few years later. Wolf toured with the Baltimore Symphony when he was 9, composed his first tune at 10, started playing professional jazz gigs at 12, and entered Berklee at 17.

Wolf’s early entry into the jazz scene, his association with the myriad Berklee attendees — and his recognition as a prodigy — assured that he’d work with many name artists. Bassist Christian McBride, who was Jazz Aspen’s artistic director at the time, was one of the first to recognize Wolf’s talent. McBride — along with Gregory Hutchinson (drums), Peter Martin (piano), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) and Tim Green (alto and soprano sax) — join Wolf on this, his debut album for Mack Avenue.

Most of the tunes were composed by members of the sextet; the exception is Chick Corea’s “Senor Mouse,” originally recorded as a duet with vibes icon Gary Burton, who was a member of Corea’s group for awhile. Wolf’s cover demonstrates his prowess on both vibraphone and marimba (the latter is overdubbed). Wolf also uses the marimba on the ballad “How I Feel at This Given Moment”; as he explains, “I wanted to add the marimba’s sweet wooden sound.”

The album menu includes a nice mix of ballads, blues, mid-tempo swingers and one supersonic flag-waver (“One For Lenny”). The sextet grooves nicely, and Wolf clearly demonstrates that he’s a musical force to be reckoned with. His multi-instrument abilities evoke Lionel Hampton, who also was on speaking terms with the drums and piano, as well as vibes. Hamp was a great traditional jazz artist, and Wolf demonstrates that this sort of talent remains relevant in the modern jazz world.

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