Michael Wolff and his band Impure Thoughts have delivered a riveting new album. Set for release November 9 on Artemis Records, Dangerous Vision is sinister, cinematic, sensual, and confident. "It's the record I've always wanted to make," says Wolff.
From the menacing title track which opens the CD, it's clear Wolff has tapped into a new voice within. His ominous piano bars give way to a muscular hip-hop drumbeat, and the song jumps to life. Wolff's Fender Rhodes adds an unsettling three note theme, and the listener is immersed in a dark dreamscape, evocative of the tension in Scorsese's Taxi Driver or the paranoia of Schlesinger's Marathon Man. Wolff's rapid-fire solo midway through is pure adrenaline. "His technical abilities push the edge of madness at times, in all the right ways," noted Keyboard magazine. The intensity of the title song is warmly contrasted by the sweetness of "St. Thomas," the sensuality of "Rupak," the serenity of "In The Moment," and the melancholy of "Empty House."
Dangerous Vision is nine songs in all: five original tracks by Michael Wolff, plus new takes on Nat Adderley's "Work Song," John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas," and "Soul Sauce" by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo. "I wanted to re-visit some of the songs that meant a lot to me coming up as a musician," says Wolff. Recorded over three days and nights in Los Angeles, then mixed and mastered in New York, Dangerous Vision features Wolff on piano, Badal Roy on tablas, Airto Moreira on percussion, John B. Williams on bass, Victor Jones on drums, plus Mike Clark on drums. Downbeat magazine has said, "Impure Thoughts represents a pinnacle in the modern amalgamation of ethnic musical styles."
"There's no doubt that I was looking to create a new sonic template for this album, to make a jazz CD that sounded crisp, unusual, distinctive," says Wolff. With that in mind, he spent time listening to Uninvisible by Medeski Martin & Wood, and These Are The Vistas by The Bad Plus. Ultimately, Dangerous Vision achieves the in-your face-piano and drum quality that had thus far eluded Wolff. He attributes the album's immediacy to the energy and tension created by inviting a live audience to observe the studio recording sessions:
"There were a few goals I had for this album. One was to feature my piano playing once and for all. The other two Impure Thoughts records were good, with solid ensemble work, writing and arranging. But in listening to the mixes, I felt that I'd 'hidden my light under a bushel.' So I wanted to make sure the piano (as well as my electric piano) was featured, dominant, strong, exciting, stimulating. And as I thought about that, I realized that my strengths seemed to be revealed more clearly in my live performances, as opposed to a standard studio setting.
"So, I invited people to be an audience in the studio. I was inspired to record this way by Cannonball Adderley. I was his last pianist, and made one studio album with him, Phenix. Cannon always liked to have people in the studio to give it a live feel, and would even have an open bar and food for the guests in the studio.
For Dangerous Vision, there were always 20 to 30 people right in the room where we were playing. We had some separation for the sound to be controlled, but all the doors of the different areas were open, and all faced me at the piano. I was going for the excitement and immediacy of the live performance, so I spent some time to make sure we got the drum sound right. I wanted it to have a 'room' sound, as opposed to a closed-mich sound. I'm very happy with how it turned out. Also, we played complete sets of music, instead of playing many takes of one song over and over again. That way we (and the audience,) really got into the groove of a performance."
Background on Michael Wolff:
Dangerous Vision is Michael Wolff's eighth CD, and third with his band Impure Thoughts. A pianist and composer with a wealth of straight-ahead jazz credentials, Wolff brings a growing body of soundtrack work ("Dark Angel," "Made Up," "The Tic Code") to the table as well. With Impure Thoughts, he combines his musical roots in jazz with a world beat sensibility.
In 1975, Wolff was hired by the great alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and that high-profile gig led to stints with Sonny Rollins, Airto Moreira, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Wolff then became the musical director, arranger, and pianist for singer Nancy Wilson, for whom he wrote orchestral arrangements and conducted over 25 major symphonies worldwide. Taking his talents to television, Wolff became the bandleader and musical director for the popular Arsenio Hall Show, a position he held for the five-plus year run of the show. During that time, Wolff wrote music every day. He arranged and performed with hundreds of accomplished, diverse musicians, including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Bobby McFerrin, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Yo Yo Ma, and Placido Domingo.
After the TV show ended, Wolff jumped back into the jazz scene with a string of highly regarded recordings, including Michael Wolff, Portraiture--The Blues Period and two piano trio outings--Jumpstart and 2AM--with legendary jazz drummer Tony Williams and the young upright bass star Christian McBride. "Even as I was doing those straight ahead jazz projects," recalls Wolff, "I knew I'd ultimately experiment with more of a world music feel, to adapt my jazz influences and explore new sounds. With Impure Thoughts, I've been able to bring those ideas to life."
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