Michael Wolff – Zenith (Indianola)
Having recently beat cancer after a several-year battle, veteran pianist Michael Wolff shares every ounce of pain, fear, hope and triumph on Zenith, his first solo-piano collection in a 25-year discography. “I decided to not try to be anything hip or modern or put any outside pressure on myself,” he stated in a recent interview about the album in Eponymous Review. “I just picked the material and sat at the piano and let it fly.”
The cathartic results of this philosophy are on full display. Wolff creates a seamless flow with colorful arrangements that mainly clock in under four minutes, complementing five original compositions with spirited takes on iconic jazz and Great American Songbook pieces. He also reveals an unexpected influence with a soulful cover of indie folkster Sufjan’s Stevens’ haunting 2003 gem “Flint.”
Wolff artfully balances freewheeling improvisation on brisk-paced tunes with the thoughtful beauty of his ballad playing. His frenetic, percussive original “The Doc,” and snappy, lighthearted rolls through Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” contrast with the introspection of “Cry Me a River,” “Too Long at the Fair” and “Polly,” a sweetly understated tribute to his wife, actress Polly Draper.
The pianist also grafts his own imaginative melodicism onto a Sonny Rollins classic with the clever mashup “Madimba/St. Thomas,” and adds a bit of wit by vocalizing playfully on his soulful strut through “Makin’ Whoopee.” True to its title, Wolff’s 14-track offering takes him to new creative heights, the depth of his artistry intensified by events of recent years.
— Jonathan Widran