Random Act Records never fails to disappoint and the latest/debut release from Michael Wolff and Mike Clark which streets 02/19/13 is certainly no exception. If Michael Wolff sounds familiar it may be from his stint as the musical director for the Arsenio Hall show. Mike Clark is a drummer that is beyond reproach and a case could easily be made that he could be one of the best along with Jeff "Tain" Watts working today. Clark rose to prominence with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters only to have his beats sampled by countless hip-hop and rap artists. Clark works as a clinician and has published numerous method books inspiring the new breed of modern jazz players by working with such luminaries as Donald Harrison, Wallace Roney and Randy Brecker.
With Expedition Wolff and Clark push their conceptual envelope and keep it simple at the same time. The concept? Spread the joy of improvisational music and on this release in particular show the jazz sensibilities possible with tunes such as "Come Together" from the Beatles and some classic R&B in "Mercy, Mercy Mercy" and "For The Love Of Money." There is literally a jazz smorgasbord put on display for one to sample bit and pieces as they strike the particular mood of the passive listener. "Come Together" is a harmonic piece of jazz nasty laid down in changing meter yet still holding tight to the original melody without reharming the tune past all recognition. "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" has a gospel infusion and the lyrical bass playing of Chip Jackson shines as one of the most iconic soul tunes is transformed to a musical happy place somewhere between gospel, blues, and soul. Clark never plays in the pocket, he is the pocket and the harmonic expedition that Wolff sets out on is a thing of beauty. Wolff and Clark put the fun back in jazz and when you have Chip Jackson rounding out the rhythm section then you have unadulterated joy compressed on to a shiny silver disc. The ballad "Elise" closes this formidable release and literally all star trio with an exquisite ballad that Wolff has dedicated to his late mother. Compare the dynamics of "Elise" with the foot to the floor groove found on "Flat Out" and to say this trio is simply having fun is an understatement.
Wolff is a master improviser and while he may take the sonic road less traveled, there is always enough accessibility left to keep the listener guessing. The music contained on Expedition is fresh and alive with flavor. New adventures in harmonic discovery and a keen sense of melody create a synergy not often found in the stereotypical jazz piano trio. This is a release whose central theme is passion. While the two Random Act artists both made my year end "Best Of" list for 2012, Wolff & Clark's Expedition should make a welcome addition for 2013.
Tracks: Come Together; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; ARP; Song For My Father; Is There A Jackson In The House?"; Hummin'; For The Love Of Money; Elise.
Personnel: Michael Wolff: piano; Mike Clark: drums; Chip Jackson: acoustic bass.
4 1/2 stars out of 5. A sensational effort that borders on infectious.
The release can be purchased through Amazon, iTunes and at the good ol' fashioned record store should you be lucky enough to have one.