Veteran jazz artist aims for fresh sounds

“We’re all about live music,” said pianist and composer Michael Wolff, who will be at Murphy’s Place Thursday with his quartet, Impure Thoughts. The veteran jazz artist sought to capture that live-music experience with his eighth and most recent disc, “Dangerous Vision,” on Artemis Records, inviting about 30 people into the studio during the recording sessions.

“I was inspired to record this way by Cannonball Adderly,” Wolff said. “I was his last pianist, and made one studio album with him, ‘Phenix.’ Cannon always liked to have people in the studio to give it a live feel, and would even have an open bar and food for the guests.” Wolff, whose highest-profile job was serving as musical director for The Arsenio Hall Show from 1989-94, said he wanted to create a “new sonic template” on his latest disc by combining traditional and modern jazz, hip-hop and funk, and world music — reflecting his diverse musical influences. “My formative years were the Seventies,” he said. “Groups like Return to Forever, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, electric Miles [Davis] — that’s the music that I grew up with.” Wolff, who started out studying classical piano at age 8, was 19 when he was hired by Latin jazz pioneer Cal Tjader.

In 1975, Wolff was hired by Adderly, at the time one of the jazz world’s leading saxophonists. That high-profile position landed Wolff work with such stars as Sonny Rollins, Airto Moreira, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, and Nancy Wilson. When Wolff was hired by Arsenio Hall, he served as musical director during the talk show’s entire 5 1/2-year run and enjoyed working with such esteemed musical guests as B.B. King, Wayne Shorter, Ray Charles, and Placido Domingo. Wolff said his work with Impure Thoughts and the new album’s “sonic template” is more rewarding than anything he’s done before. “I’m doing the music that I want to do now,” he said. “I’m just going totally for a creative vibe at this point in my career.”

TOLEDO BLADE, David Yonke, March 25, 2005