Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ben Wendel - Frame (Sunnyside, 2012)

Ben Wendel is a young saxophonist and composer, recently transplanted to New York City from the West Coast. On this, his second album as a leader, he is featured on saxophones, bassoon and melodica, accompanied by Gerald Clayton and Tigran Hamasyan on piano, Nir Felder on guitar, Adam Benjamin on piano and Fender Rhodes, Ben Street on bass and Nate Wood on drums. The first two tracks, “Chorale” and “Clayland” are uptempo nimble performances showing the group navigating a tricky course with speed and agility. A reworked version of the bebop standard “Con Alma” is particularly interesting, played as a spare duet for saxophone and piano. Wendel plays in a controlled yet quiet manner, that adds notes but not volume. “Backbou” has a choppy and jaunty full band melody. Piano and rhythm slowly build the pace as Wnedel’s saxophone slowly glides in over percussive piano and drums. After an open moment for saxophone and drums, Felder enters and wraps things up. “Jean and Renata” keeps the pace moving briskly with saxophone and drums leading off in a confident manner, before the full band comes in playing sharp and subtle, giving the music a strong, rippling and muscular feel. The lengthy performance entitled “Blocks” slows the momentum down a little bit, building a light and airy sound anchored by excellent thick and full sounding bass. The bass works really well as a foundation for a yearning saxophone solo that develops and quickens, becoming more passionate. They shift the music dynamically slower to a percussion led section and finally out. The title performance “Frame” has a fast and nimble melody with guitar shading and accompanying a brisk saxophone solo. Wendel builds his statement very fast and nimble with Wood’s percussion keeping pace. After a rumbling piano, bass and drums interlude, the full band returns with a complex full band improvisation. The composition “Leaving” was written to commemorate Wendel’s leaving the West Coast and has a lonely and elegiac feel of someone taking a leap into the unknown. The music fills out with multiple layers of music before scaling back in conclusion. Frame - amazon.com

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