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Warren Wolf Steps Out of the Shadows at An die Musik, Dec. 10

December 12, 2011

For a young jazz musician, it’s not enough to be really good; you have to find a way to get people to notice that you’re really good. One time-honored method is to join a band led by an older musician who’s already well known. Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gilchrist has done that by joining David Murray’s Black Saint Quartet. And Baltimore vibraphonist Warren Wolf has done something similar by joining bands led by Bobby Watson and Christian McBride.

The McBride connection helped Wolf land a deal with a major independent record label, the nationally distributed Mack Avenue Records. McBride not only played bass on the resulting album, Warren Wolf, and produced the sessions, but also climbed the long staircase at An Die Musik to play Wolf’s hometown record-release party Saturday night.

So there was McBride—in his black suit, bald-domed head, and goatee—thumping out the muscular push-and-pull rhythm to Wolf’s composition, “427 Mass. Ave.,” the funky blues that kicks off both of his albums—the new one as well as 2008’s Raw. Wolf, looking dapper in a gray blazer over a black T-shirt, hammered the keys of his vibraphone with two blue-felt mallets, sometimes reinforcing McBride’s thump, sometimes pushing back against it. These rhythms enjoyed the physicality of popular dance music but never its predictability. Later, when Wolf ushered in his lovely ballad composition, “How I Feel at This Given Moment,” with an unaccompanied intro, one could see as well as hear how his mallets slowed down to sketch the romantic melody over a bass line and then sped up to mark the chord changes in brisk arpeggios.

Chick Corea originally wrote “Senor Mouse” as a duet between his piano and Gary Burton’s vibes, and that’s how Wolf began it, engaging Maryland pianist Alex Brown in an unaccompanied, conversational give-and-take. When the rest of the quintet joined them, Wolf shifted the dialogue to soprano saxophonist Tim Green, his musical foil since the fifth grade. The Jule Styne standard “Just in Time” was also treated as an unaccompanied duet, this time between Wolf and McBride. Here especially one could see the strong fingers and hear the rich tone that make McBride one of the best upright bassists in jazz. In all three of these dialogues, one could hear how each statement shaped the response, which quickly became a new declaration demanding a new answer.

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  • Sam

    Glad to read some coverage of this great venue’s intimate offerings and focus on local talents — amazing musicians — like Warren Wolf! I enjoy every time I hear him at An Die.

  • Big Tony

    I remeber Warren Wolf from the ACT-SO days, that kid is a musical genuis!