Concert Preview: Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla

“Joe’s Strut”

Michael Wolff – – Wrong Records

Pianist Michael Wolff has carved out a creative niche somewhere between the old-school traditionalists and the avant-garde. Drawing on jazz’s grand heritage (due, no doubt, to his early years playing with Julius “Cannonball” Adderly and Sonny Rollins) Wolff’s playing also incorporates many of the most modern threads.

His latest disc finds him in a forceful mood, playing throughout with exuberance and a high level of energy. Backed by a rhythm section of drummer Victor Jones and either Chip Jackson or Rich Goods on bass, Wolff shares lead duties with Steve Wilson and Ian Young on saxophones. And while Wolff is generous in sharing solo and lead duties with the two reedmen, neither can match his dynamism —- this is clearly Wolff’s showcase.

The album opens with three original songs, including the powerhouse title track which comes off as an uptempo takeoff on Vince Guaraldi’s songs from the old “Peanuts” animated specials. An impassioned reading of Frank Loesser’s “If I Were a Bell” is the most straight-ahead track on the album. A cover of Harold Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” is the only song where Wolff slows things down, and yet even in this slow-walking arrangement, there is a ferocity to the emotions beneath his playing. Joe Zawinul’s “74 Miles Away” closes the album out, and Wolff shows that fusion may be as close to a stylistic home as the versatile Wolff will ever have.

Michael Wolff plays Feb. 12 at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla.

Jim Tragesser – North County Times