Swirl is a deftly programmed, smartly paced nine-track program, recorded live in the audiophile-worthy environs of the Yamaha piano salon in Manhattan. It kicks off with “Allison,” a gorgeous, ebullient, singing tune co-written by Wolff and his bassist; prior to the trio, the two musicians and New York neighbors developed deep chemistry as a duo. “Metairie,” named for the New Orleans suburb where Wolff has family he continues to visit, is a sly, inquisitive exercise in midtempo swing. “Jenny” was crafted in tribute to a friend who had also suffered with disease—and then rewritten after she found the first piece too dissonant. Following her feedback, Wolff went back to the grindstone with a new m.o.: “I’m going to try to write the prettiest melody I possibly can.” Boasting a blues-flecked groove and a simmering yet driving beat, “Tough Ashkenazi” takes its title from a conversation Wolff had with his pal and fellow pianist Fred Hersch. In 2011, Hersch revealed his own harrowing story of illness, in an innovative stage work called My Coma Dreams. “We’re some tough Ashkenazi’s,” Hersch told Wolff, citing the pair’s shared fortitude and Jewish roots, and causing Wolff to ponder the connection between those traits. “No,” Wolff replied with a laugh. “We’re some tough Ashkenazi motherf—ers.”
Michael Wolff’s has just released his new album Swirl (January 25 / Sunnyside). It’s a radiant new piano-trio album featuring bassist Ben Allison and drummer Allan Mednard, recorded live in the audiophile-worthy environs of the Yamaha piano salon in Manhattan, for a small group of invited guests.