Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tom Wolfe Solerovescent Summit 2014

Consistent in the unpredictability of style, Tom Wolfe offers up a winner!
 
Brent Black / www.criticaljazz.com
 
Tom and I are neighbors...sort of. I live in Kentucky and Tom hails from Alabama. While the mid south is not considered fertile ground for a great many improvisational musicians, Tom Wolfe is indeed the exception to the rule. Solerovescent is a uniquely personal work of compositions both old and new that cover a myriad of styles yet all magically blend together in an ebb and flow that is heavy on variety and deep with the harmonic synergy normally absent in such a release.
 
A rock solid quintet anchored with all star drummer Danny Gottlieb and rounded out with Ken Waters on trumpet and the bass duties split between Tim Goodwin and Chris Kozak allows Tom Wolfe's clean lines to strike a new chord with each changing tune. The sound is rich, clean and with a subtle ambient flow of forward motion. An ethereal swing of lyrical proportions. "Gospel" is a Wolfe original that is an intimate and emotive flow of lyrical bliss, improvisational nirvana. "Sidetrack" is another Wolfe original that is more of a post bop odd metered swing with just enough attitude to push the melody without getting in his own way. The highlight may well be "Southwest" which is a somewhat dialed down ambient exploratory that transcends genre and takes that harmonic road less traveled by most guitarists. The disc closes with "Triste" from Antonio Carlos Jobim and "Naima" from John Coltrane. The covers are arranged well but the strength of Wolfe's original compositions carry the release on their own with ease.
 
Tom Wolfe is as technically proficient as he is artistically gifted. Lots of guitarists roaming the improvisational streets today, Tom Wolfe is one of the better guitarists you will find.

Floating on the Silence

Known as the "Segovia of Jazz," Gene Bertoncini has lent his acutely sensitive, often acoustic guitar to work with a wide range of jazz artists, from Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich to Wayne Shorter and Hubert Laws, and such singers as Tonny Bennett, Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson, over a career spanning four decades. He has been a hero of mine since I heard him on recordings with Paul Desmond in the 1970s. Currently a faculty member at the Eastman School of Music, Bertoncini moves effortlessly between jazz and classical forms with all that implies in terms of both knowledge and technique. He is the guitarist's guitarist par excellence, devoted to music of subtlety and taste, without ever losing touch with the essence of jazz. And, a big deal for me, Bertoncini's work represents a refreshing antidote to the excessive volume levels that continue to plague many jazz performances.

Here Bertoncini is heard in duet with a former student, Tom Wolfe, who has since emerged as an artist and educator in his own right. Currently Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Alabama, and President of the Alabama Chapter of the International Association of Jazz Educators, Wolfe has performed or recorded with Lou Marini, Lew Soloff, Ken Watters, Bill Goodwin, and Mundell Lowe among others. Lowe, himself something of a legend among guitarists, has high praise for both Wolfe and Bertoncini. "This is the way to play a melody," he writes in the liner notes of this album, "and a great example of how to accompany -- singers or instrumentalists. I have known both Gene and Tom for some time now, and I am always amazed at the musicianship they both show when they are doing what they do best. . . playing music."

I can only concur. The two guitarists work together with remarkable sensitivity and inventiveness, each of them alternating seamlessly between lead and accompaniment roles. There is no indication in the liner notes who is heard on which channel, and Mr. Wolfe will probably take it as a compliment that I have difficulty distinguishing between the two guitarists. Following a number of duo performances together, it is evident that they had developed a virtually telepathic understanding by the time they took advantage of a free day to record this session. The title of Floating on the Silence comes from Gene Lees' lyrics for Antonio Carlos Jobim's tune "Corcovado," which is heard here on track three. Lees speaks of ". . . quiet chords from my guitar . . . floating on the silence that surrounds us," which would be a good description of this session, except that Bertoncini and Wolfe also do some hard swinging, especially on "Con Alma," "Like Someone In Love," and even on Jobim's "How Insensitive."

Other than some amplified work on "Like Someone in Love," this is acoustic music, and within that context it is some of the best guitar work to appear during 2007. All jazz guitarists will want to check this out, and other jazz lovers should be right behind them.

Floating On The Silence,Tom Wolfe, guitar and Gene Bertoncini, guitar.
Tom Wolfe is a new name to me, but Gene Bertoncini has been long admired in hip jazz guitar circles. The two work beautifully together on acoustic guitars, reading one another's moves like long-standing playing mates. Their impressive programm is made up of ten tunes in all; eight standards and one original composition from each guitarist. They begin with a animated and squeaky clean version of Tadd Dameron's “On A Misty Night.” “I'll Remember April” is taken at a relaxed, medium tempo, and Jobim's “ Corcovado ” is played to perfection. The title “For My Lady” may not ring a bell, but it's one of those ”you'll know it when you hear it,” charming melody lines from Toots Thielemans. “For Chet” is Bertoncini's tribute in waltz time to the trumpet champion Chet Baker. Dizzy's “Con Alma” here becomes a guitar tour de force, and “The Nearness Of You” takes on a bit more tempo than usual. “A Moment Alone” is Wolfe's thoughtful ballad entry, and “How Insensitive” is taken legato before achieving its usual Brazilian feel. Finally, there's “Like Someone In Love,” one of the great American ballads, but this time it's played in a bit more of a zesty treatment. Wolfe and Bertoncini work, somewhat miraculously, as nearly one voice. That's how together they are in executing their ideas. True guitar lovers, not the rock crowd, will both understand what a feat this is and will receive much pleasure from it. Summit , 2007 ****

Guitar Duets: Jay Geils-Gerry Beaudoin, Tom Wolfe/Gene Bertoncini, Bucky Pizzarelli/John Pizzarelli

Guitars and fiddle sounds as fun as these inevitably are happy reminders of the great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli duets, most especially on the Hot Club classic "Minor Swing . For The Kings of Strings, teenage fiddle phenomenon Aaron Weinstein joins with guitarists Jay Geils, famously chieftain of the rock 'n rolling J. Geils Band and Grammy- nominated Gerry Beaudoin to amble amiably through an eclectic set of pop and Swing Era classics plus some original blues and bop blues thrown in for good measure.

Typically tasty is the quintet's take on "The Flat Foot Floogie ; the ballroom's totally rocking with a long Weinstein riff followed by both Geils and Weinstein mixing it up with super caliente licks. Beaudoin's samba-like take on his own "Jackie's Serenade makes for an undulating, romantic mood and a total change of pace.

The title of Floating on the Silence comes from Gene Lees' lyrics for Antonio Carlos Jobim's tune "Corcovado . The gentleness of his words — "...quiet chords from my guitar...floating on the silence that surrounds us — serves as an aptly poetic description of the guitar duo of Gene Bertoncini and his longtime cohort Tom Wolfe.

When it's only two making all the music the presence or absence of chemistry is immediately evident. The pair's unhurried approach allows the listener to be privy to a conversation in which each player listens and supports the other melodically and harmonically, eschewing pyrotechnics in favor of playing only as many notes as are needed.

Here's more guitar heaven on earth, The Pizzarellis, papa Bucky on his seven-string guitar and son John, long may they wave. "Graham Avenue Stroll is a particularly piquant elder Pizzarelli original, a salute to Bucky's parents in which father and son amiably trade licks. Each of the tunes has some personal significance: There's a totally jumping rendition of "Avalon , recalling their friend and sometime musical cohort Benny Goodman, and a pleasantly pungent take on "Rose Room , which recalls the elder Pizzarelli's celebrated partnership with fellow guitarist George Barnes.

As much as Generations is a tribute to other musicians and to family, this is no mere ramble down memory lane. Their reading of Mercer, Burke & Hampton's "Midnight Sun evokes all the meditative beauty of that gem, the sort of performance that draws a sigh of satisfaction when it's over and for which the repeat button was invented. This is happy jazz, straightforward and absolutely accessible from pros that know what they're doing. Keep it coming, Pizzarellis.

Floating on the Silence

Tom Wolfe's debut recording under his own name is a reunion of with his old teacher, jazz guitar master Gene Bertoncini. Wolfe, who was a graduate student under Bertoncini, has long since become a music educator, but this delightful duo guitar session occurred during an off day while they touring together. The result is a recording that should be considered essential for guitar students and jazz fans alike. From the first track to the last, both men are listening to one another, fluidly moving between playing lead and comping, playing beautiful variations of each piece while never losing sight of the melody. The music draws mostly from standards, bossa novas and famous jazz compositions, though Bertoncini contributed the lovely, bittersweet ballad "For Chet" and Wolfe the pensive "A Moment Alone." All the tracks are enjoyable, but the festive setting of Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" produces the most fireworks. The only oversight is the (most likely accidental) omission of credit to the recording engineer, who did a brilliant job in capturing the essence of the duo's playing.  Rating: StarStarStarStar

Brothers III

Their most adventurous album to date places the Watters brothers in a position to lead. Today’s jazz world contains many directions all at the same time, and its umbrella continues to grow. However, the spirit that drove Buddy Bolden will not fade.

Ken & Harry Watters ensure that tradition remains a clear and central part of their plan. Their compositions contain the foundation that has served jazz for over a century. Syncopation, improvised expression, exotic impressions, and plaintive cries weave their powerful threads through Brothers III. Ken and Harry have provided most of the compositions. While Harry’s background is clearly traditional/conservative and Ken’s background has ventured more toward the avant-garde in jazz, they make beautiful music when their talents are merged. Smooth, harmonious chords mingle with vibrant dissonance and exotic rhythms. This quality is especially apparent on “Our Eyes Are Watching,” where the ensemble emanates universal appeal through its grasp of sincere emotion. A perky harmonic array balances the ensemble’s contemporary, laid-back attitude. Together, the brothers forge trails that lead to higher ground.

Ken’s clarion trumpet tone and creative edge blend naturally with Harry’s superb trombone foundation and fluid movements. On Erik Applegate’s “Another Reply,” for example, the brothers combine their instrumental voices in perfect balance for a few minutes of magic. Complemented by a stellar rhythm section, the brothers share solo space with piano, bass and guitar. Tom Wolfe’s acoustic and electric guitars, in particular, provide interesting shades and hues to enhance the session. During “The Very Thought of You,” for example, he colors lovely – yet conservative – trumpet, trombone, and bass solos with contemporary fills and hot, leading-edge counterpoint. With this highly recommended album, Ken & Harry Watters have proven that a wide range of musical tastes can share the same jazz umbrella.

Simple Peace

One of the most prolific jazz guitarists and educators emanating out of the Southeastern region of the United States, Tom Wolfe makes his well-timed debut as a solo artist with this new release titled, Simple Peace. Not only has Wolfe performed with legendary guitarist Mundel Lowe and more recently on fellow Southerners Ken and Harry Watters’ excellent new release Brothers II, (See June ’00 AAJ review) but was also appointed as a “Kennedy Center” jazz ambassador. Here, the guitarist and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Alabama – steps out on his own while garnering strong and sympathetic support from a top-notch band.

The album commences with a sprightly nod to guitarist Pat Metheny on “It Is Time” as Wolfe melds rapid chord progressions with elegantly performed mid-toned electric lines while also turning up the heat in tandem with pianist Bill Peterson’s lush melodies. Wolfe implements gritty, souped-up electric leads on “Mindbend” yet playfully disrupts the momentum with odd-metered passages along with a straight-ahead swing groove. Hence, the guitarist displays a fertile imagination along with convincing chops!

The band indulges in some clever improvisational maneuvers on the somewhat rambunctious piece, “Go With The Flow” as the guitarist goes head to head with drummer Mark Lanter for a vivacious polyrhythmic encounter whereas Wolfe exhibits some good old country charm on the aptly titled composition, “Appalachia”. With this piece, the guitarist commingles deft C&W style picking with rock rhythms and lucid jazz grooves along with Oteil Burnbridge’s limber electric bass soloing.

Wolfe finalizes the proceedings with his acoustic and predominately grassroots ballad, "Pueblo”. Overall, Simple Peace is a fine and thoroughly memorable freshman effort from a guitarist/composer who exhibits the necessary ingredients for long term success. Recommended!

Jazz Instructor Leads By Example

Being the director of jazz studies at the University of Alabama and a jazz performer might be enough for some musicians, but Tom Wolfe had a bigger dream. After years of teaching his students to 'let go' and to develop their own musical personalities, he realized to actualize his own vision would require a project of original music. Receiving an Artist Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts resulted in Simple Peace sixty-five minutes of dynamic, highly varied jazz, flavored with rock, and featuring top musicians. Wolfe is not afraid of tonal variety - he can go from Metheny-like cleanliness to overdriven fury to warm, resonant acoustic in a measure. A perfect example off of Simple Peace would be "Appalachia", which alone demonstrates Wolfe's guitaristic gifts and mature, yet ambitious, compositional style. His CD is highly recommended for jazz and fusion fans.

Performing professionally since the age of 17, Tom has had myriad experiences. From performing at theme parks while still in high school, performing as a sideman for Bob Hope at age 19, to touring Africa as a Jazz Ambassador, he has been involved in music at a very sophisticated level. Accustomed to the world of academia, Tom performs concerts and offers masterclasses for both high school and college level students. He is a core musician for the W.C. Handy Music Festival is addition to being on the faculty for the W.C. Handy Jazz Camp. Tom has performed as a sideman on several CDs, including Ken and Harry Watter's "Brothers II" and Louisiana Jazz 5's "Close To Home" and "Bayou Gypsy".

Wolfe continues to play live in support of Simple Peace, and in the jazz tradition, continues to improvise and interact with musicians to allow the music to constantly reflect the creative process of the moment.

TrueFire.com

This is my new educational video that explores the performance styles of Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Herb Ellis and other fabulous guitarists from the '60's.  Enjoy!!!

50 Licks by Tom Wolfe

Alcestis Ascending

I composed and performed the music for the production of a new theatrical work by Seth Panitch - Alcestis Ascending.  The production will ru\an in Tuscaloosa, NYC (Off-Broadway) and finally, Havana, Cuba.  Attached is a link to some rehearsals with some of the music in the tracks.  Enjoy!!!

Alcestis Ascending

Another fun item!

Over the years i have written a lot of jingles and music beds.  Below is a link to a Christmas ad for Chico's featuring Diane Keaton.  They used my music for the ad - enjoy!

Chico's - Tom Wolfe music bed

Check it out!

In January, 2012 I performed with Chris Kozak (bass) and Danny Gottlieb (drums) at Muriel Anderson's All-Star Guitar Night at the NAMM Convention in Annaheim, CA.  We played one of my compositions, "Go With The Flow." 

Winter 2012 All-Star Guitar Night Video

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