What appeals here? A combination of factors. Mark Isham's work from his tenure with Van Morrison on such beautiful albums as Into the Music I know and like, Isham's own classic modal mastery displayed on Blue Sun I used to play to death, and most topically the trumpeter-composer's film work with Craig Harris recently on Judas and the Black Messiah turns me on.
On this quartet record recorded in a Los Angeles jazz club that has taken a decade to be released he excels on the marvellous 'Ballade Noir' that opens proceedings. The leader pianist Michael Wolff in the 1970s worked with Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson and in the 80s and early-90s was bandleader of the Arsenio Hall TV show. In more recent years Wolff combined with the very cult drummer here Mike Clark of The Headhunters in a band known as the Wolff & Clark Expedition. The double bassist is John B. Williams who, like Wolff, played in the Arsenio Hall show band and is on at least 10 earlier Wolff albums. If you like me dug Dwight Trible's Mothership that Gearbox put out in 2019 you will also probably just want to get this to hear Williams, which is a sensible idea, although this record is not spiritual jazz and there are no vocals, more it lands on a hip modern-mainstreamer place built for subtlety and skill writ large, chased down by classic Wayne Shorter material at its centrepiece. (Oh, and whisper it, but Cobham nuts will know that Williams was on Crosswinds.)
All four begin to whip up a heat on 'Lagniappe' and one of the obvious things about the overall effect involving band and place is the way that the club audience applause is organically captured. That sort of detail matters. There is no sterility at all. Wolff tells the people the tunes again a little like you hear, or used to, in a proper club. There is a firm Nefertiti strand with both the Wayne title track of the 1968 Miles Davis album and the man from Newark's 'Fall' from the same album included. Isham plays the main theme of 'Fall' in stately fashion, another pleasure.
Clark gets funky at the beginning of 'Falling Down'. I've seen him live at Ronnie Scott's so I know what Clark can do as a rhythm imperative that brings the room to life and he contributes a lot to this Vitellos gig all these years ago. Remaining tracks are 'The Conversation' and at the end 'Loft Funk' where the rustle Clark coaxes up is very satisfying indeed. Finally a word for Wolff: he manages the alchemy of leading and laying back and it's a study of touch that leaps off the keys whatever he does. What a fine album that is not about the big I am just four teasing and cajoling along that bit more to come blazing through to the fore. SG