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"Impure Thoughts" – Michael Wolff

Michael
Wolff
Indianola Music Group 7930185500-2
The cover of this CD, rather than showing some groovy abstract pattern or a
picturesque view of some pretty scene, simply features the sheet music to
the title tune. This gives one a good indication of the solid musical base
of piano player Michael Wolff. Aided by an excellent band, Wolff gave me a
lot to think about and absorb.
Eritrea, the first tune, sets the stage for the rest of the album,
with Wolff’s jazzy stylings contrasting with the earthy world-beat pulse
laid down by tabla player Badal Roy. Next is a fairly radical
reinterpretation of the Temptations’ classic Papa Was A Rolling
Stone. Bassist John Williams doesn’t stray too far from the ominous bass
line of the original, but Wolff and sax player Alex Foster get plenty of
room to roam from the song’s structure. The result is an interesting,
spacious piece of jazz/funk that almost qualifies as a new composition.
Euphoria doesn’t live up to its name, in my opinion, but
Bengal returns to the same world music territory as Eritrea,
with great results. The tabla and percussion are definitely quite strong on
this album and lend lots of flavor to the mix. Another unusual cover emerges
with Wolff’s version of Sly Stone’s Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf
Agin). As with the previous cover, this is a totally instrumental
version that retains some of the funky flavor of the original while mixing
in liberal doses of jazzy chord voicings and spacious arrangements.
In A Silent Way is one of the true classics of jazz, and Wolff and
company leave it pretty much as is. Saxophonist Alex Foster, who is
displayed prominently throughout the album, really knocked me out with his
round, powerful sound on this version. Strangely enough, the title track is
one of the weakest songs on the album, in my opinion. However, the closing
track Mama Tell Me left a very good taste in my mouth with its
soulful sound.
Wolff’s piano playing has an interesting sound, spare and economical,
although sometimes it comes too close to lounge jazz. His compositions are
interesting, although I much prefer the world beat of Bengal and Eritrea to
Euphoria and Impure Thoughts. By combining traditional piano jazz with
spirited percussion, Wolff has forged an interesting sound, and I would love
to check out this band in a small, smoky jazz club. Until then, this disc
will have to tide me over.

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