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Simple Song

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Album Review

Young saxophonist Ben Wendel might be familiar to listeners as a sideman with Jason Mraz, as well as the Go: Organic Orchestra, Kneebody, or the band of Todd Sickafoose. But here he also proves a capable leader and composer of modern contemporary neo-bop jazz on his own. Clearly in the post-Michael Brecker mode, Wendel also takes noticeable cues from peers Donny McCaslin, Chris Potter, Seamus Blake, and David Binney. His fluid, lyrical style has a good deal of edge, his drive running consistently in fourth gear, his ideas quite tuneful and accessible within challenged parameters. He's also surrounded himself with excellent partners, especially guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, and drummer Nate Wood, with Taylor Eigsti, Tigran Hamasyan, and Adam Benjamin splitting tracks on keyboards. The title is a bit of a misnomer, as these are complex, intricate composed pieces requiring a good deal of rehearsal, and it sounds like they got them right for the recording session. With a combined sense of ease interacting and a great sense of teamwork, this band brings to life a set of heady compositions perfectly suited for the time period at the end of the 2000s. Wendel is impressive from the onset for the circular, swirling melody of "Breath" in 6/8, fast clockwork time, and then 4/4 where his aforementioned influences are clearly evident. He offers tributes to heroes and mentors on the low-key "Maupin" for Bennie Maupin, playing a subtle bassoon within Latin type drum rhythms, bass, and piano underpinnings, while "Ralph" for Ralph Alessi, is in 5/4, and quieter on tenor sax. Offering a version of John Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament," Wendel does it in modal style distinctively different from the original, while Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" is a delightful chamber Baroque-style piece, again on the double reed woodwind. Switching to soprano sax, "No Thank You Mr. West" is a quirky, kinetic tune fueled by Hamasyan's superb inventive piano in a quick 3/4, while a similar energy on the best track, "Trust Fall" transcends Wendel's influences, steaming along in the most complex construct and extraordinary display of virtuosity. Koonse is an impressive, consistent stylist, and on this recording sounds like another peer, Adam Rogers, especially when using simple tiny phrases in elongated stretches during the title track, cleverly employing three beats within four, and many notes. Eigsti is brilliant as usual, while Benjamin plays acoustic piano and a little Fender Rhodes, adding variety and a retro feel to the proceedings. There's no doubt as to the competence and high-level musicianship of Wendel and his charges. If this is any indication of future projects, Wendel should have a long and satisfying career in modern music. Bravo to this highly recommended recording. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s

Saxophonist Ben Wendel is an adventurous improviser and composer with a bent toward genre-bending jazz. Born in Vancouver and raised in Santa Monica, California, Wendel grew up in a creative, musically inclined family. Encouraged to pursue music from a young age by his mother, opera soprano and arts administrator Dale Franzen, Wendel started out on the piano at age five and began playing the saxophone around age ten. In his teens, he balanced his time between playing saxophone and bassoon and listening...
Full bio
Simple Song, Ben Wendel
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  • €8.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: 24 March 2009

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