February 20, 2020

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Wolf and his pack bring the swing in Ellington tribute

Classics come to life in vibraphonist's hands

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/11/2014 (1936 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VIBRAPHONIST Warren Wolf is a man of many talents, not least of which is interpreting Duke Ellington for a new age.

Wolf and his quartet Wolfpack — pianist Mark Meadows, bassist Kris Funn and drummer John Lamkin — swung like mad Sunday afternoon in the second of three weekend concerts, tagged Ellington and More, in the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series.

Wolf's main instrument is the vibes, but he also plays piano and drums and played them all during the concert, and added a more than competent spot on bass in one number.

The band started cooking right from the opener, In A Mellotone, maintaining the tight, swinging sound of the Ellington bands in a more modern context. The song, written in 1939, still has legs.

The vibes weren't a staple of the Ellington bands, but Wolf showed they could have been on Cottontail, another classic from the Ellington songbook. Wolf's mallets flew over the bars from the familiar introduction and he and pianist Meadows made a formidable team here, and throughout the show.

Wolf and Lamkin put on a show playing four-handed drums as the band moved into Caravan, one of the most recognizable pieces of Ellington's repertoire and one of the most expressive of the afternoon show with a terrific piano solo by Meadows and some atmospheric keyboard playing by Wolf.

Wolfpack plays like a well-oiled machine, but Wolf and Meadows especially seem attuned to each other and shared the lead spots on many numbers, including a great rendition of Don't Get Around Much Anymore, which also showcased bassist Funn.

The More section of the concert featured a couple of Wolf's compositions, starting with Four Stars From Heaven (he's a father of four), a brilliant piece brilliantly done as Wolf switched from vibes to keyboard and back.

His second composition, The Struggle, was a richly textured tune that also showcased his keyboard and vibe talents.

The band sent its appreciative audience home with rousing versions of It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing) a stunning version on which Wolf added scatting and singing to his musical toolkit, and the encore Take the 'A' Train in a version that opened with Wolf's unaccompanied piano solo before he returned to the vibes and led the band home on the well-travelled tracks laid down by Ellington composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

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