...an album of easy swing and late night balladry.
John Eyles 2002-11-20
Bennie Wallace has carved out his own particular niche in the jazz spectrum, and he continues to fill it perfectly. He is able to balance tradition and innovation and make that balance sound easy and natural. He has a big, beautiful tone on the tenor sax that doesn't make the frequent comparisons to Ben Webster seem fanciful. He also has enough modernisms in his playing to draw parallels with Sonny Rollins or Eric Dolphy, as he amply demonstrates with some unexpected leaps on Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma".
Wallace is joined here by three players who have a similar balance between old and new; Mulgrew Miller on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. The four sound very comfortable together, with an easy sense of swing that would put many long-established groups to shame.
The material is a blend of standards and jazz classics, which allow Wallace to demonstrate his strengths. One particular strength is his ballad playing; hardly surprising with that tone and control at his disposal. As if to demonstrate the point, he gives masterclass performances of two Billy Strayhorn pieces, "My Little Brown Book" and "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing"; each is milked for every drop of emotion, without ever crossing the line into sentimentality.
Moodsville is as aptly named as any recent release I can recall. Its primary aim is to create a particular mood - a mellow, late-night ambience. That aim is faultlessly achieved. Your enthusiasm for this album will largely be determined by your willingness to share in that mood...