Album review

Ben Wendel – ‘High Heart’

Ben Wendel – High Heart

(Edition Records EDN 1162. Album review by Jon Turney)

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We’re all still catching up with stuff after the pandemic pause, aren’t we? So like me you may have missed this CD when it came out last year. But saxophonist Ben Wendel’s latest had a London launch last week at Ronnie Scott’s (reviewed here) so let’s have a listen.

It’s his fifth outing as leader, and uses an intriguing ensemble including two keyboard players, Shai Maestro and Gerald Clayton, and vocalist Michael Mayo. With support from Joe Sanders on bass and Nate Wood on drums they establish an unusual group sound from quite complex music. The writing often combines tenor saxophone and voice, requires the keyboard players to trade solos without tripping over each other, or uses them to create rich settings for the others, or – on the clamourous Drawn Away – to build rocking ostinati that generate an edgy momentum.

Each player comes across as really committed to the group concept but there is still plenty of jazz space for individual contributions to stand out. The leader’s fleet saxophone lines features on most tracks, sometimes improvising with the voice, while Maestro shines whenever he comes to the forefront. I find Mayo’s wordless vocals something of an acquired taste, though he is certainly contributing an essential ingredient to the overall sound – and is especially effective on the hymn-like Less.

There is some thoughtful if mildly portentous stuff in the notes about forging a role for the artist in a digital age, but there’s no need to take any notice of that when listening. This is highly accomplished music-making from an unusually talented bunch of players. It would have been a shame to miss it.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter:

LINK: High Heart at Edition Records

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