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Powerhouse piano playing

Joe's Strut
Joe's Strut
By Michael Wolff

Wrong Records: 2009

This review first appeared in Turbula in April 2009.

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 matches his dynamism here – this is clearly Wolff's showcase.

The album opens with three original songs, including the powerhouse title track which comes off as an uptempo take-off 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 here 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 he shows that fusion may be as close to a stylistic home as the versatile Wolff will ever have.