Rotations

The standards, however, lack such energy of invention. Wolff, who has played with Rollins, Cannonball Adderly, Tony Williams, and Christian McBride, seems restricted by the frameworks of others, hauling out versions of "On Green Dolphin Street" and Mingus's "Porkpie Hat" that seem more obligatory than inspired. While the pianist generally takes a sharp, lyrical approach to melodies on the standards, he seems less confident about venturing into unknown territory, resulting in a stilted, jagged sound. Even when his runs do surprise, they lack the punch and passion of his originals.

Some of Wolff's problems echo those found on many other recent jazz recordings: Artists seem to feel obliged to cover reliable standards, convinced that they can put a new stamp on a classic. But did Wolff really need to record, for example, "Round Midnight," by Monk? At this point, does anyone? Wolff's version plods, and the vocals from guest Kenny Rankin are strictly standard-issue.

Wolff, competently backed by John B. Williams (bass), Roy McCurdy (drums), and Ben Rodefer (guitar, on five tracks), is an agile musician with a unique approach to melody. With any luck his future recordings will feature original compositions that, unlike the standards on Portraiture, don't paint themselves into corners. (Fuel 2000, P.O. Box 46130, Los Angeles, CA 90046)

-- Larry Getlen

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