If Wolff & Clark sound like the names of a pair of adventurous explorers, that’s because they are.
In a manner of speaking.
Berkeley-educated pianist Wolff was tapped to tinkle the ivories in Cal Tjader’s Latin-rock fusion band when he was only nineteen. The gig led to other high-profile performances and recordings with Cannonball Adderly, Jean-Luc Ponty, Sonny Rollins, and Warren Zevon. He served as musical director for chanteuse Nancy Wilson and brought his Steinway stylings to the house band on The Arsenio Hall Show, where he met his wife—actress Polly Draper. Her 1999 film The Tic Code was largely based on Wolff’s struggles as a musician with Tourette’s Syndrome.
Clark made a name for himself as the innovative funk drummer in Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters during the 1970s. His work on Hancock’s Thrust, Flood and the Death Wish soundtrack practically redefined jazz-funk drumming and acted as a springboard for Clark’s tenure with UK fusion group Brand X and stints with trumpeter Chet Baker, Peanuts pianist Vince Guaraldi, and Primus bassist Les Claypool.
Clark released Carnival of Souls in 2010 on Owl City Records. He guested on Wolff’s Dangerous Vision in 2004 and Love & Destruction in 2006.
Wolff & Clark Expedition finds the two sound-chasing virtuosos pooling their talent on an exciting foray into piano-drum deconstruction and improvisation. Available now on Random Act Records, the disc features creative covers and original compositions that continue stretching the parameters of jazz melody and rhythm.
The duo will highlight the fresh material during two shows at Nighttown this Wednesday, March 20, 2013. The first set starts at 7:00pm. Tickets are $20.00.
The CD leads off with a playful interpretation of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” with Wolff faithfully reproducing the first verse before introducing decorative chords and phrases at the pre-chorus. The Abbey Road tune is barely recognizable by the end, but that’s precisely the idea; Wolff and Clark meticulously dissect Lennon / McCartney’s familiar measures and bring their prodigious chops to bear on an engaging reassembly. A spin on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” is followed by a mischievous ramble through Josef Zawinul’s (Miles Davis, Weather Report) “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” Clark’s judicious snare and cymbal riffs propelling his partner’s fleet-fingered meanderings over the black and whites.
Wolff and Clark zig and zag through the funky “For the Love of Money” (penned by Philadelphia soul songwriters Keith Gamble and Leon Huff popularized by The O’Jays) and Nat Adderly’s bluesy “Hummin’,” the pianist’s inventive lines weaving in and out of the percussionist’s nimble paradiddles, flams, and flourishes.
The duo sounds loose and spontaneous on original compositions “ARP” and “Is There a Jackson in the House,” with Wolff’s trebly licks cascading over Clark’s pulsing patterns and off-kilter cadences. Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” rings fresh and bright, Wolff’s keys tip-toeing (then tap-dancing) to Clark’s metronomic high-hat. The disc decelerates only for touching ballad “Elise,” dedicated to Wolff’s mother.
Acoustic / double-bassist Chip Jackson (Elvin Jones band) played on the Expedition album—but electric bass phenomenon Jeff Berlin (Allan Holdsworth, Bill Bruford) will round out the trio at Nighttown.
Berlin contributed to several acclaimed recordings by ex-Yes members like Patrick Moraz and was one of three powerhouse players in the bass super-group Bx3. Apart from his considerable skills as a performer, Berlin is a renowned instructor and columnist, having founded The Bass Institute of Technology in L.A. and The Players School in Clearwater, Florida. He jammed with Clark at Cleveland’s Winchester Tavern last year along with guitarist Scott Henderson.
Clark and Berlin will host a clinic entitled “Rhythm Section Magic” at Stebal Drums (32612 Vine Street, Willowick OH) on March 20 before heading over to Nighttown. Tickets for the clinic are on sale now at http://stebaldrums.com/clinics.php .
Wolff & Clark Expedition is available now on iTunes and at www.randomactrecords.com for only $12.99—but the musicians will sign copies of the CD purchased at Wednesday’s gigs.
Wolff & Clark Expedition with Jeff Berlin. Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at Nighttown (12387 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights OH 44106).