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Live At Athenaeum Jazz by Mike Wofford Trio

The best jazz to listen to is always when the musicians have no need to try and impress the listener. Already established with their reputations, the individuals sit back and play with a true spirit in the joy of creation and music-making among friends. It’s unfortunate there are so few artists who work this way. Herbie Hancock’s Gershwin’s World and Billy Cobham’s Alivemutherforya are two excellent examples of musicians working within the confines of the greater essence of the music. Add to the list pianist Mike Wofford’s excellent Live At Athenaeum Jazz.

As a musician all you need to know about Wofford’s credentials is he has backed both Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn - two musicians who did not suffer fools in their bands. Born in San Diego, Wofford has spent much of his career working in the West Coast music scene and lists some of the finest musicians as former working partners: James Moody, Bud Shank, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Zoot Sims, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel and Harry "Sweets" Edison. This recording, captured live at The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, finds Wofford working with two of the finest rhythm mates one can imagine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Victor Lewis. Together they create music that is delicate and gracious yet highly exhilarating and swings like nobody’s business.

From the opening odd-meter treatment of the standard My Old Flame through to the final tune, Irving Berlin’s The Best Thing For You, this set is beyond tight - they truly play with one mind. One, of many great examples, is found in the interaction between Wofford and Lewis during their trading of solos on Dex-Mex. No matter what Wofford throws up in terms of rhythmic aberrations, Lewis is able to take and digest before then turning it around as a new challenge back at Wofford, who then in turn reworks the ideas back at Lewis, and so on. One can only imagine how great it would have been to actually be at the concert and hear these two masters open their souls live. Likewise, on I’m Just A Lucky So And So, the three musicians rally round a rousing band crescendo and take it out with all flags waving.

The only weak tune is a reworking of Sting’s It’s Probably Me. Following Lewis’ opening solo he never seems to be able to find a comfortable direction from which to propel the tune. Washington, as well, also doesn’t seem as relaxed as on the other pieces. For whatever reason, this piece doesn’t come close to matching the intimacy of the others.

It’s a shame artists with the abilities of these three, who come together to create music as moving as this, can’t find a major label to get behind and back music with this level of commitment and integrity. That, of course, is the real problem with the bottom-line it’s-all-about-profits-this-quarter mentality in today’s music industry - today’s corporate offices have no forward thinkers who care about the music. You may have to search to find this disc, but it’s well worth it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mike Wofford Trio
  • CD Title: Live At Athenaeum Jazz
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Capri Records Ltd.
  • Tracks: My Old Flame, Take The Coltrane, Macedonia, Dex-Mex, Medley: Lucky To Be Me/Im Just A Lucky So And So
  • Musicians: Mike Wofford (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Victor Lewis (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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