Past associations with Cannonball Adderley and the Headhunters seemed to point toward a new melding of R&B and jazz here. Instead, Michael Wolff and Mike Clark have created a nimble, adventurous trio recording that takes intriguing liberties with songs across a broad swath of styles.
They begin by leaping, with a limber assist from bassist Chip Jackson, into the Chuck Berry-inspired Beatles track “Come Together” — unleashing these blocky, rhythmic runs across its central groove. Wolff’s sharp jabs are answered in kind by Herbie Hancock alum’s Clark’s active, encircling counterpoints. Later, the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money” has a similar multi-dimensional character, sounding at times like a funky R&B breakdown, at others like an inside-out modern jazz tune.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Wolff and Clark Expedition take on “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” — a signature element of the Cannonball Adderley repertoire — is one of the album’s high points. Wolff made a memorable appearance the Cannonball’s final recording, and he brings a rich appreciation for the almost-religious cool (not to mention impish sense of humor) that the saxophonist brought to everything he did. Clark, meanwhile, lays down a grease-popping groove. “Hummin,’” composed by Cannonball’s cornet-playing brother Nat, finds Wolff offering these salty asides, leaving plenty of space for Clark and Jackson to kick up a series of rhythmic rooster tails.
Oddly enough, their approach on Wolff and Clark Expedition (due February 19, 2013 via Random Act Records) is perhaps best understood during their take on the songbook warhorse “What Is This Thing Called Love” — a moment as ecstatic as it is revelatory. Attacking at a frenetic pace, they simply pull this thread-bare old Cole Porter song apart, only to find glittering new treasures inside: Clark’s undulating polyrhythms are matched pace for pace by Wolff’s trickling runs.
“ARP,” a Wolff original, boasts the crisp, almost melancholic coolness of Vince Guaraldi, but with a much more dynamic rhythmic accompaniment. Throughout, Clark adds this thrilling matrix of cues, finding new angles with each passing bar. It’s a wondrous thing. There’s a similar dynamic on their update of Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” with Wolff tip toeing with an appropriate delicacy, while Clark works his cymbal to tatters.
Finally, Wolff offers the touching “Elise,” and Clark — just as capable of boiling counter-rhythms as he is the delicately understated aside — settles into a quiet, almost diaphanous pace. Playing Motian to his Evans, they end Wolff and Clark Expedition on a deeply emotional note.