By: Hrayr Attarian, Chicago Jazz Magazine
With the captivating Fatherhood, bassist Ben Wolfe pays homage to his late father, Dan. The nine originals and one standard that comprise the album are, however, far from elegiac. They are intimate—sometimes with hints of melancholy—and mostly celebratory and energetic. The overall record is imbued with a vibrant creativity.
Joining Wolfe are various talented artists: both accomplished ones and prodigious newcomers. The inclusion of a string quartet made up of violinists Jesse Mills and Georgy Valtchev, violist Kenji Bunch, and cellist Wolfram Koessel adds another intriguing dimension to the music.
The opening track, “Blind Seven,” has a dynamic cadence courtesy of Wolfe’s muscular bass, pianist Luis Perdomo’s dense chords, and drummer Donald Edwards’ restless rumble. Within it shimmers up-and-coming vibraphonist Joel Ross’ resonant mallets in a virtuosic soliloquy. Another rising talent, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, contributes agile, spontaneous phrases with a warm and blustery tone. Wolfe deftly overlaps the quintet refrains with the lush lyricism of the string quartet to a dramatic effect.
By using essentially two ensembles, representative of different genres, Wolfe is honoring his relationship with his father as the latter was a classical violinist. The most exquisite fusion of these contrasting and complementary styles is on the cinematic “The Kora La.” The booming arco of the strings and the rhythm trio’s percussive vamps lead to an expectant ambience. Perdomo extemporizes with inventiveness and fiery passion, while Wilkins’ serpentine improvisation adds a noirish touch to the tune.
Wolfe also includes a piece inspired by his own experience as a father, the effervescent and playful “Uncle Leslie.” The track features trumpeter Giveton Gelin’s lithe, burnished tones, pianist Orrin Evans’ resonant chiming notes, and Wolfe’s own elegant and eloquent solo. Other guest appearances include tenor saxophonists Ruben Fox and JD Allen. The former brings his thick, reverberating tones to the wistful and romantic “Gone Now,” while the latter blows with soulful swagger on the infectious and delightfully angular “Opener.” Finally, trombonist Steve Davis lets loose buttery, clear lines that flow gracefully over the band’s breezy sound on the pastoral “First Things First.”
Brilliant composer, masterful bandleader and virtuosic performer, Ben Wolfe is uniquely suited to pull off an ambitious project like this. And he definitely succeeds at it. Fatherhood is a multilayered and thematically unified work about the singular bond between father and son.