Wolff Unveils His ‘Vision’ Through Live Music

NEW YORK (Billboard) — Pianist Michael Wolff and his band Impure Thoughts celebrated the Nov. 9 release of their new album, “Dangerous Vision” (Artemis Records), with an exuberant live performance Nov. 17 at New York’s Jazz Standard. Wolff, with a spirited two-handed pounce on the keys, led his all-star rhythm team — including drummer Mike Clark, East Indian tabla player Badal Roy and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira — through a dynamics-packed set.

They played originals (including “Rupak,” a reflection based on a rhythm the pianist learned from Roy, and the freely improvised “In the Moment”) and new reads of jazz classics (hearty jaunts through Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”). Former “Arsenio Hall Show” bandleader and sideman (with various groups, including Moreira’s), Wolff told the crowd, “We’re all about live music.” A similar sensibility carries “Dangerous Vision,” a CD of studio cuts recorded before a live audience, in the spirit of one of his heroes, Cannonball Adderley.

In the album’s liner notes, Wolff says, “When we perform, our band doesn’t have a complete map of where we’re going musically. We have a general idea of the basic melodies and structure of each composition, but we respond and create differently each night according to the spirit of the environment.” Backstage after the first set, Wolff explained how “Dangerous Vision” came to be released by a rock-oriented label. “One of my best friends was Warren Zevon,” Wolff said. “And he introduced me to (Artemis head) Danny Goldberg.” Wolff played at Zevon’s funeral and also wrote a tribute piece, “Hugh: Requiem for Warren Zevon,” that he performed last spring with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra at the Cannon Center for Performing Arts.

Regarding his album’s hot take on Coltrane’s spiritual classic, Wolff said, “I was listening to a lot of Medeski, Martin & Wood and Bad Plus music at the time. That tune by Coltrane is so pure. I thought, ‘Why not cram all this melody into three minutes and just go with it?’ It’s a great way to unleash energy while at the same (time) performing in a thoughtful space.”

BILLBOARD, Dan Ouellette, Decmber 11, 2004