Live review

Ben Wendel at Ronnie Scott’s

Ben Wendel

(Ronnie Scott’s. 2 November 2021. Live review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Ben Wendel (centre) . Photo copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ Ronnie Scott’s

It would be very difficult to better saxophonist Ben Wendel‘s first set at Ronnie Scott’s on Tuesday night, belatedly marking the launch of the album High Heart (Edition) which happened in October 2020.  The quintet has clearly developed a strong cohesion on its current tour, and its set provided an excellent balance between composition and improvisation.

Michael Mayo. Photo copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ Ronnie Scott’s

Vocalist Michael Mayo’s wordless vocals add a particular distinctive  character to the quintet’s music, and the way he reinforced Wendel’s melodic lines in the unison passages was very effective and created a very special sound.

Joe Sanders. Photo copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ Ronnie Scott’s

There were also interesting rhythmic patterns with a lot of variety from Joe Sanders on double bass and Ofri Nehemya on drums with Sanders seeming to direct the flow.  There were also excellent contributions from  pianist Shai Maestro and guitarist Lage Lund.

The quintet played the set straight through with just an initial announcement and a final introduction of the band before a short encore.  This gave the set a nice flow without the need to stop to announce titles of tunes – this approach has advantages: often the titles can seem irrelevant and a distraction. 

Shai Maestro. Photo copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ Ronnie Scott’s

There was also an attractive variety in the accomplished way the material was allowed to unfold: the first tune began with a short drum pattern, moved into a vocal sax duo passage before the rest of the quintet came in.  The second tune was developed through a series of back and forth short solos from Maestro, Mayo and Wendel, creating a nice variation on the usual pattern of solos.  The third tune involved a longer vocal solo from Mayo; this tune was followed by an unaccompanied piano solo which acted as an interlude before the next tune.  Later in the set there was a similar interlude with solo saxophone with its sound slightly manipulated electronically; Wendel made very effective use of this gentle sound manipulation throughout the set.  The set concluded with a short lullaby written by Wendel as a present for the birth of a friend’s child.

L-R: Shai Maestro, Michael Mayo, Ben Wendel, Joe Sanders, Lage Lund, Ofri Nehemya. Photo copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ Ronnie Scott’s

The gig had attracted a good and noticeably young crowd who clearly know and are enthusiastic about Wendel’s music.

SET LIST: High Heart / Burning Bright / Kindly / Tao / Darling / Lullaby

LINK: High Heart at Edition Records

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