Tenor Saxophonist, Woodwindist, Composer & Educator John Wojciechowski Fires On All Cylinders & Leaves A Profound Impression With Swing of the Pendulum, Due Out August 18
Tenor saxophonist, woodwinds player, composer, bandleader, and educator John Wojciechowski is pleased to announce the August 18, 2023 release of his third leader album, Swing of the Pendulum, on AFAR Music.
The Chicago Tribune has called Wojciechowski — known on the jazz scene as “Wojo” — “a commanding soloist, intriguing composer and effective bandleader.” DownBeat has praised his playing for its “expressive mettle.” The Jazz Page proclaimed that he “possesses a big league tone on his axe that is a pleasure to hear. Likewise, his writing is first rate.”
Originally from Detroit, Wojciechowski (woe-jih-HOW-skee) has been a sought-after performer and educator on the Chicago scene for two decades. Featuring first-call accompanists in pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall, Swing of the Pendulum marks his next evolutionary step.
Swing of the Pendulum’s highlights, like “The Leaves Fall to the Ground,” “Peripheral Vision,” and “The Greater the Distance,” display Wojciechowski’s cardinal attributes as an artist. His sound is rounded and bold, with a captivating edge that cuts deep. He stays personal while maintaining a tether to the tenor tradition. Perhaps most importantly, Wojciechowski swings the music off its hinges.
“When I play music, what I’m trying to do is play the music that I hear,” Wojciechowski explains, with his Midwestern understatedness shining through. “Which is the result of the music that I have listened to, and the people I have been influenced by, and the different genres that I enjoy.”
Regarding his interplay with Xavier Davis, Clark Sommers and Dana Hall? “I like playing interactive music,” Wojciechowski stresses. “I like playing with musicians that are interested in a group dialogue — reacting to each other in the moment.”
As such, Wojciechowski’s years of association with his accompanists forms the beating heart of Swing of the Pendulum. For almost the entire 20 years he’s spent in the Windy City, Wojciechowski has maintained an alliance with bassist Sommers and drummer Hall.
“We’ve played together in a lot of different contexts,” Wojciechowski says, “with all three of us being leaders in different situations and playing each other’s compositions on all kinds of different gigs. We’re great friends, and I think the music reflects all that.”
As for pianist Davis? He and Wojciechowski went to school together, at Western Michigan University. Fast forward to 2018: the saxophonist set up a gig at Chicago jazz hotspot the Green Mill for Davis to come perform on with him, Sommers and Hall.
“Honest to god, within the first 30 seconds, we sounded like we all had been playing together for 30 years,” Wojciechowski marvels.
The saxophonist goes on to detail the quadratic equation. “I knew with Xavier it was going to be like putting on an old pair of slippers. And, of course, there’s something going with Clark, Dana and myself. But I had no idea that Xavier, and Clark and Dana — as a rhythm section — were going to hook up immediately.
“It was so special,” Wojciechowski continues, “that I thought, OK, my next record needs to be this band. We’re doing something that I think is special and needs to be documented.”
That hookup is completely captured on Swing of the Pendulum — and elevated by Wojciechowski’s composerly and curatorial acumen. Opener “The Leaves Fall to the Ground” is one of several tunes written by Wojciechowski specifically for said Green Mill gig.
“The song is in a minor key, and it has a fall vibe, I feel,” Wojciechowski describes. “You know how November sometimes has that feeling of impending doom, because winter’s on its way? I finished writing the song, looked out the window, and noticed the leaves had fallen off the trees — like that. I took it as a sign.
Following “The Leaves Fall to the Ground” is the title track, “Swing of the Pendulum.” “It was 2018, and you may remember that 2018 was the first time people had a chance to go and vote — and possibly knock the pendulum in the other direction — after the 2016 election,” he says of that year’s U.S. congressional election.
“Since then, I’ve also come to the realization that politics isn’t the only thing where we seem to have extremes,” Wojciechowski continues. “There’s extremes in weather. Everything seems to swing to the outside extremes all the time, and there’s very little in the middle.”
Following that eponymous composition is a Sommers original, “Past Reflections.” Sommers, a talented and prolific composer, sent the saxophonist several propositions for a lead instrument. Wojciechowski went with an unconventional choice: the alto flute.
“Texturally, it’s very different — a very soft instrument, dark and mellow” Wojciechowski says of the alto flute. And of the composition: “Between the flute and the way he wrote it, I think it stands out.”
After “Past Reflections,” we hear “Peripheral Vision” — Wojciechowski’s homage to the late piano visionary Ahmad Jamal, hung on a similar groove as Jamal’s classic composition “Poinciana (The Song of the Tree).”
“I always loved not only that song, but his iconic recording from Live at the Pershing,” says Wojciechowski, who grew up on that desert island disc, a masterclass in space and dynamics. (He correctly calls Jamal “one of the most singular voices — one of the greatest.”)
Next on the disc is a minute-and-a-half-long interstitial track courtesy of Clark, “Bass Intro.” “It’s so compositional that I felt it should be its own track,” Wojciechowski says. This leads into “Minds Eye,” a modal, Coltrane-style, 3/4 vehicle for Hall to stretch out on record.
The penultimate tune is another Clark contribution: the heaving, majestic “The Greater the Distance,” which Wojciechowski simply deems “a great song.” Swing of the Pendulum concludes in striking fashion with the uber-swinging “Lexicon,” which Wojciechowski originally recorded on his debut 2009 album of the same name.
Wojciechowski wanted to re-record “Lexicon” to document how the tune has evolved over time — compositionally and approach-wise. “I think in some ways, it’s my favorite composition of mine,” the saxophonist says, his eyes wide. “I like playing on it.”
The quartet recorded Swing of the Pendulum from soup to nuts in four and a half hours; the brevity of its creation belies the album’s profound significance. Sure, “Lexicon” closes a loop between Wojciechowski of yore and Wojciechowski now, and serves as a reminder of where he’s been.
But the overall vision of Swing of the Pendulum is future-forward, if only for this truth: it’s enthralling to imagine where this blazing tenorman could surge from here.
- The Leaves Fall to the Ground
- Swing of the Pendulum
- Past Reflections
- Peripheral Vision
- Bass Intro
- Minds Eye
- The Greater the Distance