Torben Waldorff – Wah-Wah (2012)

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If it’s an even-numbered year, it’s a safe bet that guitarist Torben Waldorff will have a new album out, and it’s a similarly sound assumption that such a record will be well-conceived, mellifluous, and briskly performed. That’s just the way Waldorff makes records, judging from the first three ArtistShare ones he’s made. Late last month, #4 bowed, and Wah-Wah possesses those qualities too, but the guitarist made one important change for this new one, called Wah-Wah: no saxophonist with which to share the front line duties.

That horn role was filled superbly on Brilliance (2006), Afterburn (2008) and American Rock Beauty (2010) by Donny McCaslin, who, as we observed last month, is a force to be reckoned with, too. Waldorff, however, felt it was time to assume a larger harmonic role: “I knew that it was necessary for me to step out and take the full melodic responsibility; I just had come to a point where sharing that with (a) saxophone was not enough room for me,” he explains. “It was the right time for me to step out.”

He retains his longtime rhythm section of Matt Clohesy (bass) and Jon Wikan (drums), and enlists Gary Versace to handle keyboard duties, like piano, Rhodes and organ. Now a quartet, Waldorff & Co. once again straddle fence between jazz and folk minded fusion. Filling in the space left vacated by the mighty McCaslin didn’t turn out to be such a complicated task; Waldorff stretches out to complete the picture not by stuffing in more notes and playing them faster, but by playing the spaces with even more care and extending those melodies. He can do this successfully because as a composer he already can construct chord progressions that are instantly identifiable and catchy, while sliding complex harmonic and rhythmic structures underneath. Not only that, but also owns has one of the most appealing guitar tones in jazz, right up there with Rosenwinkel and Metheny, with a tad more sting in it than those other two guys.

Versace. whose long list of major credits include working with guitarists like John Scofield, John Abercrombie and Peter Bernstein, applies that vast experience to also fill in any voids. You hear that on the strong partnership between his harmony on piano and Waldorff’s melody so eloquently presented on “Circle And Up,” so much so, that the restless churning underneath by Wikan and Clohesy can’t disrupt the bond.

Another benefit to this leaner setting is that Waldorff’s subtleties in his guitar playing have a greater impact. His blues-tinged note bending on a song like the soulful minor melody “You Here” (YouTube above) is the right touch for this song, and a light touch is applied to well-modulated bop runs on “Ginga.” But Waldorff looks forward in his musical vision as assuredly as he grounds himself to tradition: the next track, “Fat#2,” skillfully leverages a knotty drum ‘n’ bass rhythm with a cool, organ-led vamp over which the leader jams with precise calculation.

For gentler grooves, “Poolside” is simply mellow bliss, another soulful tune with hints of bossa nova. Here, Versace’s organ and Waldorff’s guitar combine for some nice harmonics over the chord changes. “Evac” stands out for its unbalanced rhythm, a delectable Rhodes solo and menacing single note progression guitar/bass unison run that takes the song to its end. “Cutoff (The Eleventh Bar)” immediately lightens the mood again with one of Waldorff’s signifying sparkling melodies, and the tropical-flavored “Burtsong” is built around the whimsical interplay between Waldorff and Versace. The program ends with a genteel gospel country-folk tune, “Country And Fish,” a song where I can practically hear Tony Joe White singing some lyrics.

No sax is no problem for Torben Waldorff, who takes this opportunity to showcase more clearly other facets of his craftsmanship. Wah-Wah is one of those albums that sounds good from the get-go and gets even better as you dig deeper into it. Another quiet triumph for this vastly talented product of Denmark.

Wah-Wah was released on September 25 by ArtistShare. Visit Torben Waldorff’s website for more info.

Purchase Wah-Wah here.

Click on image to purchase …

AfterburnBrilliance, live at 55 BarAfterburn

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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